You’ve probably heard it before: The modern customer has changed. Maybe you have felt this in your sales department, where sales are falling despite the fact that you have a very skilled sales team who has always shown great results.
Today, a customer in B2B is around 60-70% in his purchase journey before he or she wants to talk with a supplier. They often know a lot about you before they contact you; they have done their research. Now, they need to be sure that you can meet their unique needs exactly.
The modern salesman’s task is to diagnose the customer’s needs and to guide on the basis of this need. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that you ask the right questions so that the customer feels listened to and takes ownership of the purchase decision. But what are these questions you should ask?
Basically, there are two types of questions: they are open and they closed. Below I have split the questions into 6 types that are well suited for the sales meeting.
First and foremost, you are not interested in a situation where the seller (you) speaks and the customer listens – rather the contrary. Get a dialogue right from the start so that you can create a trust relationship where the customer feels listened to. The best way to do this is by asking open questions.
Open questions almost always start with wh-, and they are characterised by the fact that they do not allow the customer to answer a straight yes or no. The advantages of asking open questions are that they give you a good opportunity to understand the customer’s unique situation. You typically get exhaustive answers, and they create a trust relationship between you and the customer where the customer is empowered and heard.
The challenge of asking open questions may be that the conversation may run out of track. You must, therefore, be adept at moderating the conversation so that it is led in the right direction and you do not lose control of the dialogue.
There is also a high degree of uncertainty in a dialogue based on open questions, which may mean that the customer suddenly finds himself in an unpleasant situation where he or she cannot answer the question. It is the seller’s task to make the customer feel safe, so remember to think about what situation you put the customer in when asking open questions.
It may be hard to remember to ask open questions, and for the untrained one, it will often happen that you will ask a closed question. Then it may be a good idea to follow up with an open question straight after.
The great art of the sales situation is to keep the bulk of the conversation alive with open questions, but do not forget the closed questions. They are important when you need to round off the conversation with the customer. They are used most appropriately if they are intended to confirm or reject anything that you and the customer have previously spoken about.
Closed questions often contain words like “not”, “well” and “correct”. They always control an answer where there are few options. For example, “yes/no”, “big/small”, “high/low”. Closed questions often influence the customer’s answers. If you use the word “or”, you can change an open question to a closed question, so remember to use it appropriately.
While it may feel safe to use closed questions, they should be used with great caution. A challenge when using closed questions is that the customer can feel the pressure for a specific answer. It can also cause the conversation to close so you end up guessing and the customer does not feel heard.
4 types of open questions in the sales situation
We work with 4 types of open questions in the sales dialogue: uncovering questions needs activating questions, elaborate questions and concrete issues.
1: Discovery questions
- What is important to you when you want to [insert customer’s wish]?
- How do you prepare for [insert customer statement]?
- What takes a lot of your time today?
2: Establishing the need questions
- How do you ensure that the participants are well prepared?
- What about something like [insert topic]. How important is it?
3: Investigating questions
- What do you want to achieve/avoid by [insert customer’s statement]?
- What would the consequence be of [insert customer statement]?
- What benefit will you receive from [insert customer statement]?
- What is the gain of [insert customer’s statement]?
4: Specific questions
- When you say [insert customer’s statements] what do you mean by that?
- What do you get from [insert customer’s statements]?
- What can you use for that?
2 types of closed questions in the sales situation
The closed questions are the most rewarding in two situations: When summarizing or concluding the dialogue and when you need the customer to prioritize or make a choice.
1: Summary/Concluding questions
- We have talked about [insert topic], yes?
- What’s important to you is [insert topic], right?
- What we agree on is [insert conclusion], ok?
- What you want to achieve/avoid is [insert conclusion], is it not?
2: Set priority questions
- You say that it’s most important to [insert customer’s statement], but you also say that [insert customer’s statement] is most important to you. Which one of these two features is most important?
- What will be most rewarding to you; [insert options A, B or C]?
A successful sales meeting is basically about letting the customer get on board and actively listen to them rather than trying to get the customer to say what you would like to hear. The primary goal must always be to understand your customer’s needs and the key to achieving this is to be aware of the types of questions you are asking as the salesperson.
Keep the focus on the open questions, be curious, but moderate the conversation so that it goes in the right direction – possibly by closing closed questions. And always remember to summarise the conversation with closed questions so that you have a clear conclusion on the conversation when you leave the meeting.