Selling means asking questions but all sales questions are not created equal.  Some questions (like "how's the weather?") only lubricate the conversation while other questions (like "what's your current system?") are dull as dirt. 

Here are five power questions that frame the conversation, reveal crucial information, and focus the customer's attention on why he or she might want to buy from you:

1. "What do you like best about your job/industry?"

Your customer's answer allows you to calibrate what's important to that individual, so that you can customize your selling approach to match.

For example: if your customer answers: "I love the constant technical challenge," you'll want to emphasize the technical characteristics of your offering.

By contrast, if your customer answers: "I love developing the potential of my employees," you'll want to emphasize how your offering helps those employees master new skills.

Hidden benefit: The question guides the customer to focus on things he or she enjoys, which releases endorphins, immediately improving the customer's mood and receptivity to new ideas.

2. "What makes your customers happy?"

Your customer's answer provides valuable perspective into what your customer thinks will grow his or her own business.  (Needless to say, this assumes business-to-business selling.)

For example, if your customer answers "they like that our product costs less than the competition," you'll want to emphasize how your offering can help control costs.

By contrast, if your customer answers "they like having the latest and greatest before anybody else," you'll want to emphasize how your offering can accelerate the customer's design process.

Hidden benefit: the question directs the customer's attention towards what's actually important to the customer's business.  This implies that your offering has potential value to your customer's customers.

3. "What is your ideal outcome from this conversation?"

Your customer's answer clarifies your customer's expectations of you, so that you can spend your mutual time discussing something that really matters.

For example, if your customer answers "I want to understand my options," you'll know to focus on providing information and perspective.

By contrast, if the customer answers "I'd like to shave 5 percent off my manufacturing cost," you'll want to focus on the specifics of buying and installing your offering in order to achieve that goal.

Hidden benefit: Asking the question implies that there are a number of positive outcomes from the conversation, among which is one that is the most positive.

4. "In a perfect world, what would your vendors be doing for you that they're not doing today?"

Unleash this power question whenever you discover that you've got some entrenched competition whom you'll need to displace in order to sell your offering.

Your customer's answer tells you what aspect of your offering you'll need to emphasize in order to move the sale forward.

Please note that if the customer can't identify anything, then you won't be able to displace the current vendor, so you might as well move on to another customer.

Hidden benefit: The question creates doubt in your customer's mind that his or her current vendor is really the best or really doing everything possible to make your customer happy.

5. "How can I help?"

Simple, classic, effective.  'Nuff said.