#1 Questions Sales Pros Must Ask Their Customers

#1 Question on Defining Value
What Does Your Customer Really Value?

Value is in the eye of the beholder. But before you can sell value, you must answer the question, “What does my customer value?” Literally asking that question can result in vague replies, since customers themselves can’t always define exactly what they mean by “value.” Be more specific with this comparison question:

How important is price…
…compared to service?
…compared to quality?
…compared to availability?
…compared to time to market?”

This will help you and your customer prioritize what really is important and what’s not. As you continue to probe, you’ll find that price is rarely, if ever, the real issue.

#1 Question on Selling Value
How to Sell Value to Customers?

Everyone has a different definition of “value,” and questions about it will transition customers from their “lowest price” mentality to discussing real value. This question easily segues into a discussion of what’s most important to your customer:

What are the qualities you look for in a vendor relationship?”

Your customer’s answer will show you the best way to position your solution as a smarter investment over lower-priced alternatives.

#1 Question on Quality
How Does Your Customer Define Quality?

For many people, value boils down to quality of service. This question helps you cut to the chase:

Can you give me an example of when your standards for quality were not met?”

This question compels your customer to define exactly what “quality” means to him, so you’ll be able to zero in on a solution tailored to his needs.

#1 Question on Goals
What Do Your Customers Need to Achieve Their Goals?

You need to help customers figure out whether they can reach their goals using the tools they have now. This question can get the ball rolling:

Where do you see market opportunities to pursue and sales obstacles to overcome?”

You’ll have provided a valuable service by motivating them to answer that question, no matter what their answer might be.

#1 Question on Decisions
How does your Customer Make Sales Decisions?

Getting to know your customer is only the beginning of your sales and business relationship. You must also learn about his colleagues and supe­riors who “call-the-shots” on purchasing decisions. Here’s the number-one question to ask:

Take me through your sales decision-making process.

This question helps you anticipate sales problems before they rear their troublesome heads — impressing your customer with your sensitivity to the fact that other employees have a say in these decisions.

#1 Question on Commmitment
What is Your Customer’s Level of Commitment?

All customers talk about what they want to do. How can you tell whether yours is truly a doer, or is all talk and no action? This question at the beginning of the sales negotiation will help you cut-to-the-chase:

Tell me about the action steps you need to implement in order to achieve the desired outcome.”

It’s that simple. If your customer goes into detail about his time frame, resources, and the activities or initiatives he plans to launch — you’ll know he’s thought the process through and is serious about working with you.

#1 Question on Individuality
How to Support Sales Team Individualism?

In any business team, each member has a different set of criteria that’s important to them. Everybody’s coming from a different set of experiences, so make sure this question is in your tool kit:

Tell me how others on your team perceive this issue?”

This question shows your customer that you’re savvy and sensitive to the different goals and approaches of his colleagues and superiors.

#1 Question on Competitor Assessment
How to Handle Competitor Comparisons?

Assessing the competition periodically is a matter of survival for any business. Here’s a question to help your customer figure out whether he can get where he wants to be with what he already has:

How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?”

Questions about this and other aspects of business compel your customer to articulate what he’s doing or should be doing in order to define his success and what he needs to do to make it happen. This enables you to plant the seed that you’re part of the solution!

#1 Question on Outdoing the Competition
How to Snatch Business from Your Competition?

Last year, your customers bent over backwards to save money. Now that it’s 2010, they must shift their focus toward how to make money. Ask your customers questions that will get them planning how to increase revenue, how to grow market share, and how to secure more business at higher profit margins–start with this one:

What will it take on my part to win that portion of the business you’re currently giving to our competition?”

Great salespeople are never satisfied. They’re always hungry for more opportunities. If you have a good relationship in place, you’re asking for more of their business.

#1 Question on How Customers Think
Is Your Customer a Strategic Thinker?

Is your customer planning ahead and thinking strategically? If he isn’t, are you sure you’re really talking to the key decision-maker? Find out with this question:

What do you envision as the goals you want to accomplish three years from now?”

This sales question taps into your customer’s big-picture mindset, helping you help him work toward his goals.

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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).