As an advisor, your primary goal is to provide a solution to your customer. To get there, you actually need to identify the problem first and the best way to identify the problem is by simply asking.
Central to successful selling is the ability to ask effective questions. Good questions discover the customer’s real needs. The questions framed by you will assist you in uncovering customers’ needs and desires, connecting with them, and demonstrating your knowledge.
Let’s look at the types of questions successful salespeople use and go through them one by one.
- Closed Questions
- Open Questions
- Probing Questions
- Hypothetical Questions
- Reflective Questions
- Pause. (Although a ‘pause’ is not actually a question, it is a powerful tool when used with questions as we will see.)
1. Closed Questions
These questions are answered with a simple yes or no, or a one-word answer.
- They are useful in checking and clarifying information and confirming that you understand what has been said.
- They have a key role to play in closing the sale or gaining commitment. For example, “Do you want to pay monthly or annually?” or “Will you require immediate cover?”
The drawback of Closed questions is that they don’t allow the customer to tell you the whole story from their point of view.
If we only used Closed questions, it would result in:
- taking a long time to get the true picture, if we get it at all.
- customers feel like they are being interrogated.
2. Open Questions
Open questions are called Open because they open up the discussion.
- They encourage people to talk and to tell you what they really think.
- They seek out information, thoughts, feelings, opinions and values.
- Open questions often begin with words like ‘what?’ and ‘when?’
- When we are looking at Open questions there is one we need to use with care. It is “Why.”
The drawback of using Open questions is that getting more information requires the customer to take longer to answer, so they are more time-consuming than Closed questions.
Why not? Why?
We just discussed how Open Questions help in knowing the ‘why’ behind a decision. ‘Why’ is an Open question and a very effective one, but it should be used with care because it can imply criticism. It can sound accusative or judgemental even though we do not mean it to.
These questions highlight your customer’s needs by getting the customer to give detailed, specific answers. They cannot answer them with a “yes” or “no.”
3. Probing Questions
Probing questions are used to follow Open questions.
- They encourage people to give more information so that you can understand their situation in detail and get them to paint a more vivid picture of their needs and desires. Probing questions are normally Open questions.
Examples of Probing questions are:
“What happened next?” and “Exactly how will you achieve this?” “What have you done about it?” One of the example questions is a Probing question that would be asked to follow up any number of Open questions covering topics such as retiring, protecting family, etc.
Although it is a statement, “Tell me more,” is a really good Probing tool. Make sure when you use this, you do make a statement and not ask the question, “Can you tell me more?” To which they can easily answer, “No.”
4. Hypothetical Questions
Hypothetical questions are very good for finding out the customer’s desires and aspirations.
- They can also be used to test how important an uncovered need is to the customer.
“Say you inherited Rs 1 Crore, what would you do first?” is an example of a Hypothetical question.
5. Reflective Questions
Reflective questions are asked to confirm your understanding of what the customer has told you. A Reflective question usually is a Closed question that summarises what has been said.
“Would I be correct in saying…” and “What you are saying is…” are examples of Reflective Questions.
The final tool that we look at under questioning isn’t a type of question, it is the ‘Pause’.
A very powerful way of getting someone to talk is to be quiet.
Most people feel uncomfortable with silence, so use pauses to keep the customer talking. If there is silence a customer will often fill it.
Because people are uncomfortable with silence, it is important that you adopt open, non-threatening Body Language when using the Pause. Having asked the customer an Open or Probing question – wait for a response!
As well as encouraging the customer to talk, a Pause gives you, and your customer a much-needed opportunity to think and take in what is being said.
Pointers to remember
Questions are very useful to us, but they must be handled carefully because overuse or misuse can look offensive. As with Closed questions, too many Open questions in quick succession may sound as though you are interrogating the customer, which may make him bored or irritable.
Asking the right question will, if correctly constructed:
So choose the questions carefully and always acknowledge the reply, don’t just carry on with your next question and most importantly, don’t forget to listen to the reply. It doesn’t matter how good your questions are if you aren’t listening to the answers.