He who questions, controls the deal

Often people tell me that I ask great questions. Having worked in sales for a couple of decades I've come to appreciate the power of asking great questions. And I've found that prospects also value great questions because it helps them with their decision-making process by directing them to contemplate outcomes that they may have yet to consider. Throughout my career I've learned several different questioning techniques/approaches but I never understood the science behind asking questions until I read The Science of Selling by David Hoffeld. Hoffeld’s book is insightful in that it brings together sales, behavioral sciences, and specific tactics. He actually devotes an entire chapter to asking questions. Using Hoffeld's book as a reference, I'll highlight some important concepts for you to consider as you work through your deals.

Great questions influence behavior (and decision-making)

Per Hoffeld, questions have significant influence on the decision-making process because "they prompt the brain to contemplate a behavior, which research shows enhances the probability that it will be acted upon". Side note: this claim was derived from research by Maryanne Garry & Devon Polaschek titled "Imagination and Memory". Take a moment and think about Hoffeeld’s claim. Questions can make the brain consider a specific behavior and once this consideration takes place research proves that an action will likely occur. This is amazing for a couple of reasons. One is that in any deal process, the sales person wants the prospect to take an action. We don't care what action the prospect takes (e.g. saying they're not interested or agreeing to move forward), we just need the prospect to do something. Deals stall all the time because of inaction. It's one of the worst outcomes of the deal process. Asking powerful questions that prompt action is a great way to keep a deal moving. The second reason is your questions can help the buyer consider what actions to take as she determines whether or not your offering is the best fit for her organization. Having the ability to influence how the buyer discerns information that he receives from you and your competitors is powerful in its own merit.

Questions focus the mind on a single idea

Research has shown that the mind can only focus on a single idea at a time. Psychologists have confirmed this fact and agree that the human beings operate in a “largely serial fashion”. Although people think they're great at multitasking, they really just have good memories that allow them to recall, at a moments notice, exactly where they stopped working on a previous task. Hoffeld proves his point about how questions focus the mind on a single idea by asking a simple question..."What color is your house?" While reading that question you automatically start thinking about the color of your house. You didn't have to tell your brain to do so. The question alone made your brain begin the process of understanding, analyzing, and providing an answer. Per Hoffeld, "...the entire process of selling is dependent on potential customers contemplating and committing to certain foundational value propositions". So asking powerful questions allows you to drive the conversation without talking too much. You're in control because your questions forces the prospect to concentrate, contemplate and respond to your single question. As stated in the book, “...when you ask a question, you commandeer your buyer’s thoughts and steer them toward the answer to the question.”

It's a conversation not an interrogation

I've witnessed hundreds of executives and sales reps ask questions during sales calls and at times it's not a pretty picture. Although the executive may have good intentions by asking lots of questions and letting the prospect talk, they err because they're asking successive questions. This feels more like an interrogation as opposed to a conversation that is helpful for both parties. Be considerate.

All questions are not created equal

Another great point mentioned in Hoffeld’s book is that all questions aren’t created equal.  This is an important point to consider because if you’re simply asking weak questions that don’t engage the buyer’s mind then they will get bored during your conversation. You’ve seen this happen on sales calls haven’t you?  The questions asked are unmoving and ineffective and the buyer‘s eyes glaze over, he gives short answers and mentally ‘tap out’. Take some time to prepare questions that make the prospect address items that they wouldn't have considered otherwise. Great questions show you're competent. And competency yields trust. And trust is a key factor in getting deals done.

How are you using powerful questions throughout your sales process? Feel free to share in the comment section.

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Jamail CarterComment