Effective Sales Questions are the Key to Boosting Your Credibility

how to use effective sales questions to enhance your evaluation process

Guiding the Evaluation Process Using Effective Sales Questions

When was the last time you were at the dealership shopping for a car?

You and I both know you weren’t there by accident. You were there for a specific reason and more than likely, you spent some time planning out the visit, what you were looking for, and how many other dealerships you were planning to visit that day.

So somebody please explain to me why the first question most salespeople ask is: “Can I help you?”

That question is a brutal sales starter. Not because it’s a close ended question. But because buyers answer this question the same way every time: “Nope, just looking.”

I submit to you that a more effective question that shows that you are genuinely interested in the buyer might be: “Have you ever been here before?”

I know that’s another close ended question eliciting either a yes or no response from the buyer. But check this out.

By asking this question, the buyer must stop and think about where they are before responding either yes or no.

Now, if the buyer says “yes,” the salesperson can reply, “Okay then! You would probably like to know about this sale, those cars that are on clearance, and these new vehicles over here.”

But if the buyer says, “No, I’ve never been here before,” the salesperson could respond with, “Okay then! You would probably like to know about this sale, those cars that are on clearance, and these new vehicles over here.”

You see, it doesn’t matter which response the buyer gives. If your sales reps have a predictable process using sales discovery questions that guide the buying process, they have the superior position tactically.

Top Salespeople Know Who the Questioning Process is for

In my training and coaching sessions, I sometimes ask the question, “Who do you think the questioning process is for? Who are you asking these questions for?” And in most cases, participants say it’s for them, the salesperson, so they can have an idea of what talking points they’ll need to emphasize when they’re pitching their product or service.

In fact, asking questions like “Can I help you” reveals that the salesperson thinks the questioning process is only for them.

However, asking simple, close ended questions like, “Have you ever been here before?” gives the salesperson control of the sales conversation and the opportunity to direct the sales call where it needs to go.

That’s the difference between an average sales rep, a good salesperson and a superior salesperson. The average sales rep thinks they’re asking questions for their sales process and their products or services. A good salesperson will ask questions to extract pain points and use those as talking points in their sales pitch. But a superior salesperson uses effective sales questions not just for their sales process, but also to guide the buying process, build trust, rapport, and long term credibility, and shape the evaluation process into a tactical advantage.

An Analogy for Understanding the Evaluation Process

Let’s head back to the doctor’s office to further develop our medical analogy for the sales process. In another post, we used a visit to the doctor’s office as a model for the sales process. The first step in that model called for diagnosis and prescription. The second step in that model is the evaluation process.

Here’s the foundation. When a patient goes in for a medical checkup, they may initially think they are healthy, and they don’t have any health issues. But their assessment of their health situation may be flawed. Any number of ailments could be sending warning signs that something is not right. Yet, the untrained patient will either be unaware of these signs, or they may completely misinterpret them. Even a knowledgeable person may suffer from personal bias and misinterpret obvious warning signs.

A good doctor, like a good coach, will ask a series of discovery questions, not just to diagnose the situation, but also to lead the patient through the evaluation process and guide them to reconsider their initial assessment. A good doctor will help the patient face the facts and realize that maybe they aren’t as healthy as they initially thought, and they need to make some changes or take some corrective action.

On the other hand, maybe a patient is hyper aware of their condition and has symptoms that lead them to think they have a serious health issue. Again, a good doctor armed with a series of probing questions can help the patient through the evaluation process and lead them to a different conclusion. That the symptoms they are experiencing are warning signs of a more common ailment and their condition is not as debilitating as they initially believed.

The Gap Between the Current Situation and the Desired Situation

In both cases, the good doctor, or the medical team, is helping the patient to be aware of the difference between their current health condition, or what they believe their current health condition is, and what it could or should be. That difference, that gap, provides the leverage that gets the patient to act. If the gap is wide, then the doctor creates a solution that will get the patient from where they are currently to where they want to be.

Essentially, this is exactly what good salespeople do. When they sit down with a buyer in the evaluation stage, the questions they use will help the buyer crystalize their current situation and bring their desired state into focus. From there, it is just a matter of showing how your product or service can help them bridge that gap.

Expand Your Arsenal to Include All Types of Sales Questions

When we talk about the evaluation stage and asking questions, most sales managers will fall back to a product or service-centric process. They will tell their salespeople to ask their buyers open ended sales questions to determine if there is a good fit. But open ended questions are just one tool in their arsenal. Close ended questions are typically shunned because the responses are short, direct and reveal little new information. However, they have their uses, as we indicated in the example at the top of this post.

As a sales manager or sales coach, don’t let your salespeople limit themselves to the one or two methods they feel comfortable using. They have more tools at their disposal. Coach them to include these types of sales questions in their evaluation process:

  • open ended sales questions
  • closed ended sales questions
  • essay questions
  • multiple choice questions
  • fill in the blank questions
  • true/false questions

Coach them on using the appropriate types of sales questions to create the environment in their prospect’s mind, instill credibility on the part of the salesperson, and shape the buying process.

Effective Sales Questions Are Your Tools to Build Bridges in the Evaluation Process

As we discussed, salespeople ask questions to understand the buyer’s current reality. But we also want to use the questioning process to highlight the implications of taking immediate action and the consequences of procrastination. Overall, we want to highlight the buyer’s issues, and the payout the buyer gets when we resolve those issues.

If the salesperson asks questions the right way, they can get the buyer to provide suggestions on how to best present a solution to them. They may even give the salesperson their version of the ultimate solution.

Here’s another analogy that will help frame the evaluation process. Envision a fast-moving river. One bank represents the buyer’s current situation. It’s where they are now. The other bank is the buyer’s desired situation. That’s where they want to be. And the river represents the obstacles facing the buyer. Now if the buyer could get to the other side on their own power, they would have done so already. They would not have called for your assistance and expertise. So use effective sales questions in this stage to build a bridge from their current situation to their desired situation.

As salespeople, we are tasked with increasing the buyer’s awareness in these areas. Once they do, they’re open to being persuaded about anything, whether it be vehicles, financial planning, or their health.

In the next posts, we’ll review the various types of sales questions as well as moving the sale forward by asking the right questions.

For more ideas on asking effective sales questions in the evaluation process, download Lance Tyson’s book, Selling Is An Away Game available in the Kindle format on Amazon.