Relearning to Ask Questions


“Why are you cooking dinner?”

“Because we need to eat.”

“But why?”

“Because food is fuel for our bodies.”

“But why?”

“Because our bodies need energy to move, think, and play.”

“But why?”

If you have kids or have ever been a kid, you’ve experienced this conversation. While it can get irritating and often ends with, “I don’t know!” or “Ask your father!” there’s a lot we can learn from the inquisitive nature of early adolescence.

It seems that as we age, we become less apt to ask questions. Maybe we feel we are crunched for time and just can’t squeeze in everything we need to ask. Or maybe we assume we already know the answers.

It’s important to remember, though, that although you are the person asking the questions, the story that is unfolding is not your story – it’s that of the answerer. Asking questions about the person on the other side of the table will help you build your own story. You can even tell them that. “I know I’m asking you a lot, but it gives me a clear understanding of how and if I can help you.”

There are some basic tips and tricks (beyond the usual “Don’t ask closed-ended questions,”) that will help you master learning your prospect’s story and build the trust and rapport that have to be present for true communication to happen.

Simplify Your Questions
It’s easy to use filler words to try to add weight and gravity to a question. But adding more to a question can have the opposite effect – you could end up making the question unclear and thus diminishing your chances of getting the information you seek. Here’s an example:

Over complicated: “So it sounds like you are working toward creating a long-term client base in which you work closely with the client on a regular basis to ensure their success?”

Simplified: “Tell me about how you create long-term relationships with your clients because you believe it will lead to their success.”

Don’t Focus on Logistics
Certainly, there are times when logistical questions are appropriate. “What is your timeline?” “Are you the decision-maker?” “Does this fit into your budget?” These are all helpful questions that can lead to creating a good match between salesperson and purchaser.

But making logistics your primary focus is a recipe for disaster. Asking these types of questions right out of the gate can alienate your prospect, making him or her feel like you’re only there to sell, not to create a relationship. Leave these types of inquiries to the closing portion of your sales cycle.

Asking Questions You Don’t Want the Answer To
A lot of old-school sales managers will tell you to never ask a question you don’t want the answer to. That makes no sense at all when you really think about it.  Doesn’t every question carry the possibility of a negative answer?

“Are you ready to get started?” could be answered with a yes or a no.

“What reason would you have to not start today” could be answered with “None, let’s do this” or “Because I hate your product.”

Every question you ask could end up with an answer you don’t like and that’s okay, because not every product is a match for every client. Uncovering the “nos” is just as important as uncovering the “yeses.”

When asking your clients and prospects questions, ask like a child, but think like an adult. Keep asking why (although we recommend you do it in a way that’s less direct than your four-year-old) and dig deep to find the right fit. Establish rapport and watch the relationship flourish.

Read More Blog Posts