Customer Didn’t Answer Your Excellent Question? Don’t Worry

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We all know that good questions can uncover information that helps us in the sales process, but Dave Brock ‘s article on sales questioning this morning makes the important point that “the real power of effective questioning is how it helps the customer.” Questions help the customer by getting them to clarify the issues they’re trying to address and to think of things differently.

As he says, “the whole tone of a sales call changes when the customer says, ‘I’ve never considered that before.'” Dave is absolutely right, and it’s a wonderful feeling when that happens. I think back to a call I made to a prospect just to set up an appointment. He told me I was wasting my time, because they already had a sales process. When I asked him what percentage of his sales force were actively using their process, he paused and said, “Maybe we should meet to talk about that.”

But it’s also important to note that you should not expect good questions—even your very best questions—to always have an immediate visible effect. It’s not highly likely that the customer will say, “Wow, I never thought about it that way before!” In fact, the most likely reaction to this type of challenge question is either silence or some sort of combative answer. If you do get this reaction, do not think that your question has failed in its intent.

First of all, no one likes a know-it-all, especially when they’re right. Even if only to save face, the customer is probably not going to give you the immediate satisfaction of admitting you’re right.

Second, opinions are comfortable, and changing them is hard. Victor Hugo said “there is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come.” The corollary to that sentiment is that ideas take time.

Put yourself in their position: Have you ever been asked a question that forced you to rethink your opinion, or at least to look at your situation through a different perspective? It probably didn’t feel too good at the time, did it? Long-held opinions don’t get changed instantly because of a single flash of insight, especially when that insight comes from someone else. They take time to work. Sometimes a great question is like a seed that plants itself in the customer’s brain and gradually takes root. By the time the first shoots are visible, the root system has taken a firm grip on the soil beneath.

Finally, the more astute buyers won’t let on that they’re excited about your idea because it weakens their negotiating position.

In fact, if the customer is too quick to come around to your point of view, maybe they’re simply the impressionable type who will change their minds back just as quickly when someone else challenges your challenge.

So don’t think that your excellent question has failed if the customer does not react in the way you hoped. They may need time to think about what you said, or they may need to talk about it internally. Your goal is to open their mind to a different perspective; don’t re-close it by pressing too hard for an answer.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jack Malcolm
Jack founded Falcon Performance Group in 1996 specifically to combine his complex-sale expertise and his extensive financial background to design and implement complete sales process improvement initiatives at top national and international corporations.

1 COMMENT

  1. I tend not to argue with success, so if the purpose for asking questions is something other than to satisfy a sincere and genuine need to know something–and if it’s working–then by all means, keep doing it. But I haven’t found questions are successful when the intent is to “force the customer to look at things a different way.”

    This issue came up with a client I worked with who coached his telesales team of over fifty people to ask prospects “Do you see how this feature could work for you . . . ?” The intent for asking the question had less to do with satisfying a need to know than for the salesperson to guide/manipulate/steer (pick your favorite term) the prospect into giving the answer that the salesperson wanted. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say the question had nothing to do with having a sincere curiosity. Based on the recorded calls I listened to, I wouldn’t characterize the approach as effective.

    Many people draw parallels between selling and teaching. They are similar in the sense that a teacher can’t ‘force’ a student to open his or her mind. But the teacher can create an environment for students to discover on their own. The same for selling. Questions figure into creating the right environment, but there are other components at work as well.

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