Sell More Effectively by Asking the Right Questions

Salespeople typically spend too much time pitching and not enough time asking the right questions so that they can discover their prospects' real objections. They miss the emotional hot buttons they need to press to get their prospects to buy. However, top salespeople know how to ask the right questions to get prospects curious. Asking the right questions can allow you to successfully handle sales objections and lead prospects to close the sale quickly.


Identifying Customer Concerns

  1. Make your prospect feel like you care. Many people long simply to be heard and understood. By focusing on your prospects and their problems through questions, you will show that you genuinely care about hearing their problems. And you should genuinely care, because you want to find out as much information as you can about their problems, especially how they perceive their problems.
    • If you are just meeting your potential customer, try asking questions to get to know them as well. Try to draw out information about their family or hobbies that you can use when you see them again.
    • If you already know the customer, ask questions related to what you know about them. For example:
      • Got any weekend plans?
      • I hear you're retiring soon. What are you thinking of doing then?[1]
  2. Use questions to identify the customer's problems. Too many salespeople assume that they fully understand their prospects' problems. You need to ask questions at the right time about the right things in order to get the information you need to make the sale, or else you might lose credibility and lose the sale forever. Make sure that your customer knows that your focus is on them.
    • When they specify a problem, try asking for a specific example of a situation in which this problem arose. Ask for specifics and sympathize with their challenges.
    • For example, try phrasing your question like, "What are your problems with regards to...?"[2]
  3. Ask them to estimate the cost of their problem. Question the custom directly to ascertain how much they estimate the problem that they identified has cost them, is costing them, or will cost them. If they cannot identify a cost or ballpark one, it is likely the problem doesn't need solving and you should seek a sale elsewhere. However, just by asking you may force them to consider the cost and, by doing so, create a need to solve the problem. Try asking, "Can you give me an estimate of what this issue has cost over the past year in lost sales?" or something similar.[2]
  4. Get to the root of the issue. Your customer, even with the best of intentions, may not be communicating his or her real problem. The challenge that they talk about may just be a side problem or a result of their real problem. In fact, they may not even know the real problem directly. It is your job as a salesman to bring this root problem into the daylight and come to the rescue with your solution. Use your own business knowledge and targeted questioning to reveal more about the customer's operation until the root problem becomes clear to you.[3]
    • For example, a customer may claim that their marketing is not working when, in reality, their product quality has declined and customers no longer want to buy it. The marketing problem is just a symptom of a deeper issue.
  5. Locate problems with their current service provider or product. In many cases, the customer will already have one of whatever you are selling. It is then your duty to identify what they don't like about their current product or service and suggest your own as an alternative. If you're selling cellphones, for example, your customer probably already has a cell phone, but you may be able to convince them that your cell phone that you are selling has more features or is faster.
    • Try drawing out issues that they have with their current service or product. Try saying something like, "Why isn't (the service) working out for you?" or "Why did you choose to meet with me today? Are you looking to make a change?"[1]
    • In your questioning, you should seek to recognize a customer's "pain points." These are problems that the customer has, whether they are real problems or just perceived ones. By identifying and solving these pain points, you bring value to your customer and are able to make a sale.[4]

Asking the Right Questions

  1. Make your prospects aware of the consequences of their action or inaction. At the end of the day, you will not be able to push your prospects into the sale. Countless salespeople think that their product is the answer to their prospect's problem, and they push and push and push to show their prospect that they have the answer. But people resist, especially when you push too hard. That's why you must not only use questions not only to find out about your prospects' problems, but also to make your prospect aware of the consequences of their actions or, more powerfully, their inaction. Make them consider what could happen to them if they don't buy your product.
    • Making people realize what could happen if they don't act drives action by turning the want for a change to a need for one. Build up the significance and seriousness of the problem in your favor.[5]
    • For example, try asking:
      • If you don't solve this problem, what difficulties will you face in the future?
      • Are you still able to meet your goals if you don't fix this issue?[1]
  2. Use trigger questions. Just like a psychiatrist, your job is to get your prospect to open up and tell you what is on their mind. To do this, you must ask open-ended questions, that is, questions that require them to respond with a relatively complex answer rather than a simple yes or no. Remember, you want to get them talking. Closed questions, which allow your prospect to answer you with a yes or a no, don't get them to open up. Open-ended questions do. There are many types of effective question formats, but when in doubt, rely on the open-ended questions called trigger questions.
    • Here are some examples of basic Trigger Questions:
      • Can you tell me more about it?
      • Can you be more specific?
      • Can you give me an example?
    • More specific trigger questions might be:
      • What, specifically, is holding you back from your growth goals?
      • Why did you agree to meet today?
      • What is wrong with your current provider?"[1]
  3. Ask floater questions. Another type of question allows you to test the waters and determine what your prospect is thinking is the floater question. Floater questions enable you to ask hypothetical what-if questions that may help you to ask what might otherwise be uncomfortable questions to your prospects.
    • Here are some examples of floater questions that the top salespeople use:
      • Let's say ____, then what happens next?
      • Let's pretend ________ then would you?
      • If I could get my colleagues to ..., do you think you could get your colleagues to?
      • What would you say if?
      • What would you do if?
      • Would you buy today if?
    • Again, what you are doing is feeling your prospect out by putting them in a hypothetical situation. They will give you at least some idea of how much they are willing to spend, or what is important in the negotiation for them, or how close to buying they are.[2]
  4. Speak their language. Adjust your own use of technical vocabulary to the person you are speaking to. For example, speak with authority to an industry veteran by peppering in technical jargon from his field as you ask your questions. Of course, the jargon must be used correctly and in the right places. In contrast, when speaking to a novice or a retail customer, you should make your questions as easy to understand and straightforward as possible.[6]
  5. Narrow your questions over time. Start with a broad field of discussion and then slowly work your way down to specific problems and your ability to solve them. This approach eases your customer's mind because they are able to easily answer the first questions. For example, try starting with something like, "Can you tell me a bit about your business?" From here, work your way to narrower and narrower focuses until you reach the question most relevant to your proposed solution, such as, "What is the impact of inventory shrinkage on your profit margin?"[6]

Solving Customer Problems

  1. Let the customer talk. The reason questions are a successful sales tactic is that they allow the customer to do most of the talking. This gives you a better idea of what their needs are and how you can sell your product to them. But this only works if you actually give your customer time to talk. In other words, don't drown them in product description and technical information. Instead, save this information for later, when you've identified the problem and already sold them on the fact that you can provide a solution. After all, if they just wanted information, odds are they could get it on your website.[3]
  2. Inquire about their overall goals. You need to figure out exactly what you could bring to your prospect and how what you bring can further their overall goals. You already have the first part from your discussions of the customer's problem. However, for the second part you will need an idea of what the customer wants to achieve overall. Try coming at this directly with something like, "What are you looking to accomplish in the next few years?" or "What is the primary long-term goal of your business?".
    • From here, you can tailor the language and content of your product or service offering to how you can help them along the path to achieving their goals.[2]
  3. Ask about the future. You can also draw out customer desires by asking them to imagine the future of their business or life. You can either ask about how their life or business will be in the future or how they hope your business relationship will develop. For example, try asking, "Where do you see yourself/your company in five years? Ten years?" or, "How do you see your business developing if we go through with this deal?". You can gather even more information by asking other hypothetical questions like, "If you had no monetary constraints, what changes would you make?". Listen to these responses and think about the solutions you could provide.[1]
  4. Find out if they have any questions. At regular intervals, especially if you are explaining something complex, stop to ask your customer if they have any questions. This not only keeps them engaged, but can keep you from having to go back and explain something you've already moved past. In any case, try to maintain an air of helpfulness and take the time to explain anything the customer doesn't understand, as well as to understand their concerns as deeply as possible. And when your customer is thinking about their answers or questions, wait patiently and quietly.[6]


  • Give the prospect all the information he or she needs.
  • Don't focus on selling, but focus on helping the prospect.
  • Make it easy for the customer to order.
  • If you do not have the product or service the customer needs, help him or her find that product or service.
  • A sales program is concerned with three questions you must answer: (a) what are you selling?, (b) who are you going to sell it to? and (c) how are you going to sell it? Answer those and your sales program practically writes itself.

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Sources and Citations