Skip to content

Great Salespeople are not Interrogators

August 16, 2014


I recently joined a discussion in a LinkedIn group called Sales Management Executives. An interesting question led to lots of discussion.  The complete question asked by a fellow LinkedIn member was presented as follows:

How do you get your staff to ask enough questions and to ask the right questions to properly understand the customer needs, without the customer feeling as though they are testifying at a Congressional hearing?

A lot of sales folks joined the conversation. It became apparent rather quickly that there is some difficulty in training people to ask questions without having them become Hans Scharff, of the German Luftwaffe.

Effective Listening

There are many things that can be done to help sales representatives in this matter, but the number one thing above all to avoid interrogating is teach them to listen effectively. Focus on teaching your salesperson to listen and they will find it tougher to drill a prospect to exhaustion.

Effective Listening means asking questions that prompt your customer to do most of the talking; to ask questions that make them want to answer.

Ask the Right Questions

Choose questions carefully; the purpose of your questions is to engage in a conversation and to focus on helping your prospect or customer discover problems, needs, opportunities, and desires.

There are too many questions that are not purposeful.  Carefully read the prospect’s body language to see if you are asking the wrong questions. A defensive stance –arms crossed, tight jaws, or even a step backward- from your prospect or a quick change in tone means you are headed in the wrong direction.   Your questions have to be part of a natural conversation.  Don’t attack with a prepared questionnaire that performs more like a medical history chart than a comfortable discussion with a trusted friend.

When coaching how to ask questions and listen better, I teach salespeople how to categorize questions into the following areas.

  • Rapport and Relationship Building
  • Lay of the Land
  • Pain, Fear, Desire Questions
  • Deficit Questions (Questions you know they do not know the answers too)
  • Need-Implementation Analysis Questions and Answers.
  • Fulfillment / Summary
  • Close – Next Step Questions


Develop your art of conversation on your friends, your neighbors, your family members in regular everyday situations.  Pay attention to how others easily gain information from you and then use what you’ve learned to develop your sales question techniques.

Listen Intently

The critical part is listening intently to the answers and making sure that you are truly understanding the issues.  Get your customer to go in depth on the problems and pains.  Challenge them and wait for the moment when the prospect says “I did not know that”.

A great exercise is to make a list of 5-10 questions under each category with your team. Discuss the questions with each other and decide how you can easily pull a question and work it into a natural conversation. You will be amazed at the discussions that occur about how a question was phrased and what questions are more important.

Do some role playing with your new Question Matrix. It is important for them to learn to ask several questions without giving am immediate solution.  However, before asking another question there should be a confirmation of understanding by using phrases like:

  • What I hear you saying is……
  • If I understood you correctly ……
  • Just to confirm what you said ……

This is a great exercise for a team.  If you have other questions about questions, Please don’t hesitate to question me and I promise I will listen intently. Be ready for more questions from me.  Comments are welcome and desired.  

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill Stinnett permalink
    August 16, 2014 10:52 am

    Back on that old listening kick, I see!!!!

    Let’s connect again soon!


    Here’s link to one of my listening articles.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: