“Why don’t you live with your Dad anymore?” my son Matthew asked a few years ago. ”Cos Mum and Dad fight too much” came the other little voice.

Two nine year olds, whilst maneuvering their play station controllers, were having a simple conversation. Even though only nine, it brought home to me the innate ability most children have to get straight to the point and ask the most pointed questions – and get an equally direct and honest answer.

Their questioning is spot on – they don’t tend to mince their words. If they want something they have no issue in asking for it – as all of us parents are well aware.

The smart ones even do their homework. They figure out the best time to ask Mum and may even check with Dad first. Most of all they phrase their questions in such a way that you can’t give them vague answers like “I’ll see” or “We’ll talk about it later.” They want specifics!

In selling, our approach to successful client conversations and our outcomes will also rely on the quality of questions that we ask.

They will also determine how we differentiate ourselves from the salesperson who has been before us or will follow after us. They may also help us move to a new level in our business.

Our quality of questions will give us the direct and honest answers that we need in order to have a credible conversation.

Let me give you some examples:-

  • When making a sales call – how many salespeople ask, “Is this a good time to talk?” Is there ever a good time for someone to talk to a salesperson they have never met? You already have their attention – now make the most of that opportunity.
  • Have you ever said; ‘Tell me a little about your business”. How many salespeople do you think your prospect would hear from in any given week? Imagine how many times that question would be asked.

For starters, all professional salespeople should do their research. If they are unsure about something then perhaps they can leverage off their research by asking something like this instead, “In having a quick look at your website/annual report/brochure, there are a couple of areas that I am not sure about – I’m wondering if you could clarify those areas for me?”

  • How about “Are you involved in the decision making process?” What percentage of people are not going to say they are involved, especially if you have already got through the initial approach and you are sitting with them. A better phraseology would be “Can you tell me how the decision is actually made?” You get into specifics!
  • Another question that will elicit the answer you do not want is “Are you satisfied with the level of service/the feedback from clients/the speed of delivery…that you are currently getting?” Of course they are! If you do not already have a strong relationship then they may even tell you porkies. People resist being sold! Then where do you end up? Trying to grasp at straws.

If however, you have researched a little, then you will be more aware of their industry or departmental issues and challenges and you will be more capable of asking specific questions.

Instead, how about something along the lines of “What is an example of poor service levels you have experienced? What has been a negative example of client feedback you have received? What is one example of poor delivery you have been through?

These are purely examples but the methodology behind the questions allows you to continue a discussion based on a conversation. Our objective is to also help our prospect or customer think a little harder and then provide new ideas.

When you get specific, things happen. If you’re vague, people will put you off forever.

Our kids have figured that out – now we, as business people who sell, need to do the same.

Be Bold, Brave and Brilliant

Bernadette McClelland is CEO of 3 Red Folders – a modern day saleswoman and keynote speaker on business growth, personal leadership and sales performance.

BIO: Business environments wanting to increase their revenue and profits, and differentiate themselves in a competitive market, ask for Bernadette McClelland because of her thought leadership on sales performance, her ideas on thinking beyond resilience and her fresh perspectives surrounding personal leadership skills — all designed to master the outcomes that matter.

Bernadette has proudly coached Harvard MBA students on their sales enablement curriculum, been the Master Asia Pacific coach for Anthony Robbins across twelve countries, authored five books on leadership and sales transformation, won a coveted Telstra award for Business Excellence, and continually shares her ideas around behaviour, the brain and business growth on stages in the UK, Europe, Thailand, India, NZ, Australia and North America.

Believing that sales performance is a leadership issue, you will also find her heading Melbourne’s human potential based sales performance consultancy, 3 Red Folders, as she navigates lead generation, message to market and digs deep into sales process activities with her clients in the mid-tier sector as well as founding ‘Women Who Sell’, an initiative designed to bring more women up to speed in their sales success.

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Image courtesy of Tim O’Brien

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