The fourth and fifth best questions to ask

Remember in the last three installments we discussed the first three questions to ask in a consultative sales conversation:

  1. Ask about optimal performance.
  2. Ask about actual performance, in order to locate a gap.
  3. Ask what causes the gap between optimal and actual.

Question 4 involves feelings:

  1. Ask how all the stakeholders involved in the problem feel about it.

It’s been well-documented that all buying decisions are made from the buyer’s affective domain, so it makes sense that when you are selling, you should attend to it by forming your questions and presentations around how the prospect feels.  Demographers call these A.I.O’s, which stands for attitudes, interests and opinions.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedIf you’re not sold on this approach and believe you’re one of the few who makes rational choices and buying decisions, then just reflect on the last Presidential election, in which each half of the electorate believed itself to be reasoned, informed and patriotic, and that the other party was ignorant, selfish, unpatriotic or just plain dumb.  It’s not possible that we were all one way or another, so you can see the power that emotion plays.

So with this in mind, let’s play a game.  We’ll diagram a sentence, like you did in high school, only this time noting the words and phrases that attend to customer feelings. I’ve bracketed them to make them easy to see:

“Based on what you’ve told me [I listened, showing respect], most of your payables come by mail, is that right? [summary and progress test question]. There’s an opportunity for you here [opportunities are good, problems are bad] to save yourself some money and time [two benefit statements]. Let me suggest three ideas [builds interest in how you win]…”

So you see that word choices that get your customer talking about the way he or she feels, are critical.  And you don’t have to talk like Dr. Phil and say, “How does that make you feel?”  Just get at the “A.I.O’s”.

In model step four, get your prospect to focus on the areas of pain by asking:

“How do customers feel when you promise them early delivery and then miss the mark?”

“What does your CEO feel about this delay?”

“How is the service issue affecting your day-to-day processes?”

Let the customer tell you what’s not working and how he feels about it.

And then just offer the final question:

  1. Ask the customer what he thinks the solution is.

Notice that you don’t ever tell the customer, “Here is what you need to do about this.”  Just let the process work.  Like a good consultant, you have just walked the customer through the entire self-discovery process.  And if the customer’s idea about the solution just happens to line up with what you’re selling, you’ve hit a home run.

“But what if he thinks the solution is something else?”

First, it’s possible he’s right. Second, there may be a number of solutions, yours being one of them. That’s often the case. But your approach should continue to be consultative.

“That seems reasonable.  Let’s explore that and other possible ideas.  I’d like to help.”

The point is, you are using the best communication skills to help the customer win, so remain constant in your approach to…

Think Like Your Customer

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

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