Fire Up Sales with Warm-Up Questions

Asking prospective customers about their business problems right off the bat is risky, unless your prospect has volunteered the information beforehand. It’s tempting to try warming up your prospect with small talk about the weather or an interesting item in her office—but it’s easy to overdo it. You don’t want her standing there tapping her foot impatiently while you wax eloquent about the framed vacation photos on her desk. Like so many businesspeople, she’s probably seriously pressed for time. What any harried executive wants to know right away is: “How will you eliminate my business headaches and help me turn a profit?”


What attracts salespeople to the career they’ve chosen is the ability to communicate with customers. But even the best salespeople have two flaws to watch out for:

  1. They talk too much, despite their best intentions.
  2. They’re too eager to get the sale in the bag, because they’re under so much pressure to sell.

By now you’re thinking, “Okay, but if I can’t jump into problem areas right away, and I can’t make small talk about my prospect’s fine taste in office décor, what do I talk about in the first few minutes as we ease into business dialogue, without making her feel like I’m wasting her time?” Try these:

  • “How long have you been with this organization? What originally led you to this firm?”
  • “What would your best customers say are the reasons they enjoy doing business with you?”
  • “If your employees (team, coworkers, boss, etc.) were to describe this organization in five words or less, what words would come to mind?” (Listen carefully to the words given, then respond: “The word _____ is a good one; could you elaborate on that for me?”)
  • “What would you say you like most about your work? …Least?”
  • “What would you like to achieve that you’re not achieving now?”
  • “Since you’ve been with the company, what are some of the biggest hurdles you’ve faced?”
  • “How have your job and responsibilities evolved since you started with the company?”

Salespeople survive the rigors of such a demanding profession because they have strong egos. Keep in mind, though, that customers have strong egos, too, and they want to talk as much as you do! We must get away from pointless small talk, yet we can’t just dive headlong into business issues, either. It’s like plunging into a whirlwind marriage, only to realize that you don’t truly know this person you’ve impulsively vowed to share your life with.

Before you can work with your customer on a solution to her problem, you need to get to know her. Trust can’t be rushed, and a business relationship can’t be forged within a specific time frame of your choosing. The good news is that if you really listen to what your customers have to say, you’ll instill confidence in them, forming the foundation upon which to build a powerful business relationship. Use well-chosen warm-up questions to get your customers talking, listen carefully to their answers, and you’ll learn the best way to meet their needs.

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Paul Cherry

For over two decades, sales expert and author PAUL CHERRY has helped B2B sales professionals close more deals in all major industries. As a recognized thought leader in customer engagement strategies, Paul Cherry has been featured in more than 250 publications, including Investor’s Business Daily, Selling Power, Inc., Sales & Marketing Management, The Kiplinger Letter, and Salesforce.

Performance Based Results

Paul Cherry is the president of Performance Based Results. PBR delivers intense, customized sales team training programs and sales management coaching to companies throughout North America. Paul has worked with more than 1,200 organizations, including 175 of the Fortune 500, plus more than a thousand entrepreneurial, small to mid-sized, cutting-edge businesses looking to dominate their niche markets. Clients typically get 7 times their return-on-investment (ROI) or better.

Questions That Sell

Paul Cherry’s top-rated bestseller, Questions That Sell: The Powerful Process for Discovering What Your Customer Really Wants (AMACOM) has been listed on BookAuthority’s “100 Best Sales Books of All Time” and has been published in four languages. He is also the author of Questions That Get Results (Wiley) and The Ultimate Sales Pro (HarperCollins Leadership).