What’s the first and best question a salesperson should ask?

Here’s a quick quiz for you. You’re calling for the first time on an important prospect, and after the opening remarks are concluded, you’re going to begin what sales trainers call “needs identification.” Since you’ll be asking questions now, what’s the first and most important question you should ask?

This is a tough one, so before you answer it, let me make it easy for you. Which is more important, what the prospect learns from you, or what you learn from the prospect?  If you are really thinking like your customer, you know it’s more important for the customer to learn something valuable from you.  After all, aren’t you always told that on every call you should add value to the customer experience?  If you think only of yourself, you may go wrong by trying to learn something from the customer to advance your sale, a very poor approach.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedSo you want the prospect to learn something from you. Is it that the company has been in business for 50 years and is the leader in home furniture?  The marketing department wants you to say that. Or should it be that your high-speed drill with laser bit measurement is the latest in industrial tools?  The product manager wants you to say that.

The prospect doesn’t really care about those things. What the prospect wants is for you to solve a problem for him, help her make money, help him boost sales, help make her people more productive. Those are some of the areas where you really add value.  And you begin this process with one simple question.

The question is called by many names, but I call it “Optimal”. Always begin by asking the prospect to describe what optimal performance looks like or what is desired.  What is he trying to do or accomplish?  There are many ways to ask it, so here are some examples. Which of them fit your style?

“If you could wave a wand over your entire enterprise, what would you want people doing more of, or differently?”

“In a perfect world, how would your production team operate? What would you like them to be doing?”

On a scale of one to ten, with ten being perfect, what does ten look like?”

“What’s most important for you to accomplish this year?”

“Let me begin by asking you to tell me something of this year’s performance goals…”

Does your company have a protocol, process, or map of specific questions you should follow, or do you pretty much wing it?  Would you begin with a question like this? If not, you should, because the answer to it will begin to pinpoint all the prospect’s desires and needs, so that you never have to ask, “Where are you feeling the pain?” and “What keeps you up at night?” two of the dumbest questions you could ever ask.

The optimal question is then followed by four more questions to complete the process of self-discovery, so that at the end of your call, your prospect will have learned something of incomparable value from you. She has learned how to solve a problem without you telling her (or selling her) the answer!

Over the next four posts here, I’ll give you the next four questions, along with their rationale and examples of what they sound like.  They’re all designed to help you sell more effectively in a consultative manner, and they will force you to…

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

2 Responses to What’s the first and best question a salesperson should ask?

  1. Vern Edin says:

    Love this post! You always leave the reader with something to think about!

  2. Thanks Vern. I sure try! Glad you liked it. Gregory

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