If you have to go to the doctor, your first question is usually, “What’s wrong with me, Doc?”

More often than not, doctors won’t answer you right away. Instead, they turn the tables, by answering your question with one of their own: “Where does it hurt?” By doing this, they get more information from you. You talk more specifically about your pain.

When working with your prospects, do what your doctor does with you: turn the tables and answer a question with a question.

Assume that the first question that the prospect (patient) asks isn’t necessarily the real question. In order to uncover the real problem, a salesperson has to move the prospect through at least two levels of questioning.

The first question the customer asks is usually intellectual in nature. As you ask a question about the question, prospects will usually assume you misunderstood and rephrase the question.

That’s a good thing. As they do so, they become more specific. But they are still functioning on an intellectual level, so you turn the tables again. It might sound something like this:

Prospect: How is your company different from your competition? (intellectual question)
You: Good question. What, specifically, do you mean by different? (first turn)
Prospect: Well, how fast does your service department respond? (intellectual question)
You: It sounds like fast response is important to you. Is that a fair statement? (second turn)
Prospect: It sure is. I don’t want to get stuck with poor service again. (aha)

Black holes
If you fail to turn the tables, you could easily fall into a black hole of misunderstanding. Here’s an example:

Prospect: Does this unit print out multiple result sheets?
You: Sure does. You have a choice of five, 10, 15 or 20 copies at a clip. Which operation would you like to see first?
Prospect: None, I don’t want multiple copies. (oops)

However, if you use turning-the-table skills, it might sound like this:

Prospect: Does this unit print out multiple result sheets? (intellectual question)
You: Good question. Is that important to you? (first turn)
Prospect: I was just wondering if multiple printouts were an option, or if it’s built into the unit. (intellectual question)
You: Can I ask you why it matters to you? (second turn)
Prospect: Sure. It’s a waste of money. I don’t want every clerk in my lab making extra copies. (aha)

Tonsillectomies for sale?
Why is it so important to turn the tables? Because if we don’t, we’re like a doctor recommending a cure before knowing what ails you. A poor diagnosis will likely result in a solution that doesn’t work.

But there’s another reason to ask these kinds of questions. Buyers want to be sure they’re putting their business in capable hands, and questions like these go a long way toward establishing your credibility and expertise.

They’re the complete opposite of high-pressure sales techniques, which usually focus on a “solution” without any attempt to diagnose the problem.

How fast would you be out the door if your doctor said, “Hi, we’ve got a special on tonsillectomies this week. Interested?”

Source: Brian Alar was originally trained as a social worker, and used a counseling approach to set sales records at Xerox and elsewhere. He’s now a sales coach and trainer. For more information, go to www.salesdoctor.com

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