Think of a time when you came back to a familiar place and saw it through fresh eyes. Maybe it was the house you grew up in, the town you used to live in, the high school you went to.

Everything looked different. You discovered details that you’d never noticed. You began to see patterns that were once invisible. Connections you’d never seen before suddenly became obvious.

When you meet with a buyer, it’s sometimes hard to see the situation through fresh eyes. Even if it’s a new prospect, the problem is likely to be one you’ve encountered many times before. Before you know it, you slip into “been there, done that” solution mode and miss important details.

Great questions can help you regain a fresh perspective.

A great question does more than get information. It gets people thinking in new directions and reveals something about your buyers that even they may not have known before.

Ask the right question and you can solve a problem that isn’t even on your competitors’ radar screens.

Keep a list
It’s a good idea to keep track of great questions, because you can use them over and over again. When you find a question that makes a customer really stop and think, remember it and write it down.

Keep a list of your best questions near your phone, taped inside your notebook, on your computer – anywhere they’ll be at your fingertips when you’re talking to customers.

Here are some to get you started:

Understanding and rapport
Use these types of questions to increase your understanding of your customer’s situation and help build rapport:

  • If I were your customer, why would I want to do business with you?
  • If the Wall Street Journal were to write about your industry, what would the headline say?
  • What’s surprised you most about how your business has changed in the last few years?
  • Would you say your job has gotten easier lately, or more difficult? Why do you say that?
  • If you were training someone for your job, what’s the most important thing he or she should know?
  • If a new graduate were interested in a career in your industry, what would be the most important thing he or she should know?

Aspirations and afflictions
People buy because they want something better (aspirations) or want a problem (afflictions) to go away. Ask:

  • What keeps you up at night? (An oldie but a goodie.)
  • What does success look like for you and your business?
  • In the best of all possible worlds, what could you do with your business?
  • What gets in the way of reaching your goals?
  • If you had the power to eliminate just one business problem, what would it be? Why did you pick that one?

Value-creating questions
These questions help put a monetary value on solving afflictions or achieving aspirations:

  • If you could overcome these challenges, what would happen to your company’s financial situation?
  • If you were to make this happen, what would it do for you?
  • How would implementing these changes affect your ability to compete?
  • How do you think your senior management would view the success of this initiative?
  • If you don’t solve this problem, what difficulties will you face going forward?

Be patient
Best tip for using these and other open-ended questions: Patience. Sit quietly and give customers plenty of time to think. The longer the pause, the richer the response.

Source: Mike Schultz is principal of the Wellesley Hills Group, a sales consultancy in Framingham, MA. Info:

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