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Powerful Questions

by Marguerite Zimmerman

Abraham Maslow said in 1966: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

My observations when working with sales teams is that they know they need to ask questions, yet they have rarely thought a lot about their questions. While they may use some open-ended questions, most of their questions aim at getting information about the current state of the prospect. Without realizing it they have one tool and they are treating every question like a nail.

The outcome is simply this – few of the questions are powerful.

Top salespeople understand questions are a powerful tool and the value of different types of questions at different times. They have built a toolkit that includes knowing how to frame and ask questions at the right time and an understanding of sequencing.

5 Top Performer Differentiators include:

  1. The number of questions they ask
  2. The quality of the questions – how they are framed
  3. The use of different types of questions at the right time
  4. Sequencing the questions
  5. Maintaining a quality conversation through an appropriate balance between questions and narrative

According to the Harvard article “The Surprising Power of Questions,” sales professionals are not alone, this is also a problem for executives: “few think of questioning as a skill that can be honed.”

Here are 3 easy steps to improve your question asking skills:

  1. Awareness – The first step is to become aware of what questions you are asking and the five differentiators of top salespeople above. Ideally start by taping yourself and determining how you faired. Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes and ask yourself what value the questions created for him or her, not for you. If you know a true top performer (has a high conversion rate), ask them to review the recording and provide you with some feedback and ideas on questions you might have asked, sequencing, etc.
  2. Acceptance – It’s one thing to be aware of something and another thing entirely to accept that you can improve. While coaching salespeople, we meet a lot of people who say they know everything they are learning. Typically, they are unable to share any specifics on how they have applied it in the field. Often there is a big gap between what they think they know and what they can do. It will take a learning mindset for you to improve your question asking skills.
  3. Action – Start planning and writing down questions, focus on provocative questions first as they are powerful questions. Plan which questions you want to ask in a meeting with a prospect or customer. Then take a calculated risk. Try the new questions out with a prospect or customer where the stakes aren’t too high. If at first you don’t succeed, you know the drill – try again.
About Marguerite
Marguerite Zimmerman is CEO of E=mz2 Inc. & Founder of Momentium. Her career has been dedicated to helping sales forces maximize their performance.
Powerful Questions