Selling business-to-business means selling a solution. However, you can't sell a solution if you don't first discover what the customer really needs. To accomplish this, you must ask the right kind of questions, according to Nancy Martini, CEO of the sales performance firm PI Worldwide.
She notes that, when having a conversation with a customer, you have the opportunity to ask three types of questions:
1. Closed-ended Questions
These question have short, definite answers like "yes" or "no" or a specific bit of information. They can be useful if you really need to know that specific data point, but they tend to create lulls in the conversation, forcing you to segue, often awkwardly, into the next line of inquiry. Example:
2. Open-ended Questions
These questions solicit a detailed response from the customer. Unfortunately, most open-ended questions often lead the customer toward considering the product you're selling. As such, you may be missing potentially useful information. Example:
3. Strategic Questions
These questions invite the customer to expound upon a situation. They treat the customer as the expert and naturally lead into a deeper conversation that gradually reveals the full scope of how you can help the customer. Example:
As you can see, the strategic questions tend reveal the kind of details that might help you position your product as a better alternative (e.g. providing just-in-time shipments.)
How to Ask
Strategic questions usually begin with one of the following phrases: tell, share, describe, explain, explore, or help me understand.
Of course, not every every question needs to be strategic. What's most effective is a combination of all three: closed-ended questions to discover specific data points, open-ended questions to uncover more detailed information, and strategic questions to provide a higher-level context.
Also, remember: you're not conducting an interview, but having a conversation. Rather than just asking questions, add value by providing your observations and perspective.
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