Some Questions are Stupid – The Right Questions Yields Persuasive Influence

achieve persuasive influence by asking the right questions

In the last post, we looked at a process using questions to identify and build a sales opportunity, selling to the gap.

In addition to building the opportunity, your questions shape your prospect’s mindset and perceptions to achieve persuasive influence.

The questions you ask are important. But so is how you ask your questions, when you ask them, as well as how you order them. In creating your questions, you need to be cognizant of all of these factors. You want to leverage them to create a favorable environment in your prospect’s mind, conducive to moving the sale forward.

Asking the Right Questions vs. Asking the Easy Question

Let’s return to that first example we used in our initial post on questions, and an experience we’ve all had — visiting the car lot. So there you are, browsing in the open lot, and a salesperson approaches.

“Can I help you?” he might ask. “I’m just looking,” you would say.

Now, you both know you didn’t find your way there by mistake. You didn’t just sleepwalk out of bed and end up in a car lot. It’s a stupid question.

He should say: “I’m Lance. And you are?” And you would give your name.

Then he might go on to say: “Really nice to meet you. If you’re like most of the people who walk onto the car lot, you probably know a ton about why you’re here and what you’re looking for. I don’t want to interrupt that thought process, but I just want to give you some idea how we’re set up. Over here are the pre-owned vehicles and over there are the new ones. I’m simply here to answer any questions or comments you might have while you look. Hopefully I don’t waste your time, you get to see what you’re looking for, and you get to ask the questions you need to. Are you looking more for a pre-owned vehicle or a new one?”

In this instance, the salesperson has a better shot at advancing the sale forward. Not only has he used a progression of questions, starting with ‘who are you’ and finishing with an either-or question, but he’s also done a pretty decent job of establishing scope and boundaries.

But if he opens up with a self-centered question like, “Can I help you?” he’s going to lose ground.

And when you lose ground in sales, you lose sales.

The Questioning Process for Selling

Now, take that simple interaction and complicate it tenfold to understand the challenges involved in a B2B sale. To navigate the complexities involved, the salesperson must be able to open really well. Part of that goes back to adequately qualifying the prospect. But the next step in influencing the prospect involves the salesperson asking the right questions at the right time.

The way the salesperson knows how to ask the right question is to start with the prospect’s current situation. Next,  move to asking about their desired situation. Then, ask about the obstacles. Eventually, the salesperson wants to know about the impact of the desired situation and what that will give the prospect. Remember, no one buys a quarter inch drill bit because they want one. They buy the drill bit because they want a quarter inch hole. You want to find out what the hole will give them.

Here’s the secret sauce.  A skilled salesperson is always trying to see through the buyer’s eyes and can quickly leverage that perspective. Remember, If I can see things through the prospect’s eyes, I can sell what the prospect buys.  If the salesperson uses this mindset to lead the prospect through this process, they will ask questions in the right combination and the right order and ultimately be a persuasive force in the sales process.

Another Example of the Questioning Process – Selling Fitness Memberships

I recently started working out again, so I decided to seek out a gym. There’s a big Lifetime Fitness near my house that has a pool, a spa, and you can even get your nails done. You can get food there, go rock-climbing, and do yoga. Free weights. Basketball. Cardio equipment. You name it; they have it.

As I went to weigh out the gym vs. the local rec center, the options were overwhelming. So I sat down with the general manager of Lifetime Fitness, and he said, “Can I ask you a few questions before I give you the tour? What are you doing or not doing as it relates to fitness? I’ll show you what we have and see if we may be a fit. Then we’ll go from there.”

He used a great Why Speak Statement. His questions revolved around four things:

  1. How often I work out.
  2. If I had any workout equipment at home.
  3. What I thought I should or could be doing more of. What’s the ideal situation? Meaning, how much I should be working out.
  4. What I was looking for.

“So what’s been holding you back? Why hasn’t that been happening?” he asked.

I said, “Quite frankly, time.”

He nodded. “What else?”

“Probably know-how,” I said. “That’s why I’m here.”

“If you did have that access, what would be the perceived benefit?” he asked.

“I’d be healthier.”

Essentially, the general manager achieved persuasive influence by selling to a gap. He sold to my desired situation, rather than to my current situation. Lifetime Fitness was a vehicle to get from where I was to where I wanted to be. It wasn’t necessarily going to solve the problem, but it was the vehicle to get me there.

Incidentally, both my son and I now have memberships.

Achieve Persuasive Influence Over the Prospect’s Mindset by Asking the Right Questions

Let’s run through an exercise on setting the environment by asking the right questions: Pick a number between two and nine. If you can’t add, subtract, or multiply, then be sure to pick a low number. Got your number? Now take your number and multiply it by nine. You should have two integers.

Next, take those two integers and add them together. Whatever that answer is, now subtract five.

Are you with me so far? So with A as 1, B as 2, C as 3, D as 4, and E as 5, select the letter in the alphabet that corresponds with your number. Everybody got it? With your letter in the alphabet, pick a state in the US, or a country in Europe that begins with that letter.

Okay, now using the second letter of your state or country, pick an animal that begins with that letter. For those people counting with their toes, make sure to put your shoes back on.

So did you pick Delaware? Denmark?  How about elephant? Or elk? Emu? Eels?

Pretty freaking cool, right?

So who was making all the decisions in that example? You or me? You were! I was just asking questions. You were the one making all the decisions. I just limited your scope with each question.

In essence, I set foul lines. I didn’t ask a question that involved you choosing a number from one to a thousand. What I said was, “pick a number between two and nine” because every time we do the math, the end result is always the same.

The Challenge in Sales and Asking the Right Questions

The problem with selling is that most salespeople don’t have a reproducible process to build predictable results from asking questions. Therefore, every time they sit down with a prospect to diagnose a challenge, they start  from ground zero with no map to guide them.

But if you’re being really smart, you go back to your Why Speak Statement. If your agenda is solid and your Why Speak Statement is sound, you’re establishing boundaries from the get go.

So as we ask questions, we’ve got to have a process. We’ve got to think about what types of questions we ask and how we ask those questions and lead the buyer towards an answer, much like the Socratic method.

The Socratic Method – Gaining Persuasive Influence by Asking Questions

When trying to get someone to see his point of view, Socrates would engage people in deep dialogues, asking a series of seemingly innocuous questions that slowly created a sense of common ground between him and the other person. Once enough common ground was established, the dissenter had no choice but to agree with Socrates’ perspective.

That’s what made Socrates the ultimate salesman. He understood the process of evaluation. And ultimately, evaluation all comes down to the Sales Song. You know the Sales Song, right? Wait a minute, you never heard the Sales Song? How can you possibly sell if you don’t know the Sales Song? Everybody knows the Sales Song!

Alright, if you’ve never heard it, here is how it goes. The tune sounds kind of like “The Wheels on the Bus.” Feel free to sing out loud, even if you’re reading this on an airplane. There are bound to be others around you who will join in. Ready?

What do they want, and why do they want it;

What do they want, and why do they want it;

What do they want and why do they want it;

all the way to the close!

Salespeople need to ask questions around these two main factors. And we, as salespeople, need to get better at asking the questions that will help us understand a prospect’s needs. Equally important, however, is to influence the prospect to see the wisdom of considering our proposed solution. Show them how your product can resolve their most pressing problem, and you’ll win the deal every time.

For more ideas on using sales questions in the evaluation process, order Lance Tyson’s book, Selling Is An Away Game available on