The first goal of a customer interview isn’t to make the sale. Nor is it to collect information. Before either of those can happen, you first have to establish trust – the foundation of high-quality, long-term customer relationships.

The questions you ask during a customer interview – and the way you ask them – are often the first step toward creating that trust. In fact, a well-crafted question cuts two ways. It helps you learn something about your buyer. And it tells the buyer that you can be trusted.

Paradoxically, the more a buyer reveals to you, the more likely he or she is to trust you. In other words, the act of self-disclosure, in and of itself, creates a deep psychological bond between two people. So how can you encourage that kind of self-disclosure from your prospects and buyers?

Consider these guidelines to creating deeper, more meaningful interviews.

1. Set aside your own agenda
Let the customers tell their own story, in their own way and at their own pace. Don’t even think of offering a solution until you’re sure you have the whole story.

Don’t walk in with a predetermined agenda. Don’t try to force your buyer into giving answers that you want. Instead, display genuine curiosity and let the buyer lead you where he or she wants to go.

Sit and listen. Take time. Show empathy. And eventually your buyer will tell you everything.

This approach contrasts favorably with old-school sales techniques where the goal – making the sale – is predetermined. Those kinds of questions are rigged to get the right response: “Are you paying too much?” “Would you agree that…?” “If I could show you …” That tactic may win a sale from time to time. But it it does nothing to build trust. In fact, it often leaves buyers feeling manipulated.

2. Go for emotion
There’s nothing more powerful in sales than the buyer’s emotion. People don’t spend money without a compelling reason. They’re fed up. They’re frustrated. They’re worried. Or they’re optimistic, hopeful, excited.

Even though people buy on emotion, we usually sell on logic. We present “reasons to buy” – features, benefits, cost savings, a better price.

We know the power of emotion. So why do we so often avoid it? Often we emphasize the logical side because we’re uncomfortable with the customer’s emotions. Yet when we encourage someone to express honest emotion, we build trust. When customers start talking about what makes them sad, happy, angry or excited, don’t back off. Stay with them.

3. Respect the buyer’s vulnerability
When you get buyers focused on their emotions, they’ve allowed themselves to be vulnerable. You must be scrupulous about not taking advantage of that vulnerability.

So, for example, never try to manipulate their emotions with loaded questions: “How would you feel, Mr. Jones, if your plant was under six feet of water?” Don’t try to channel buyers’ emotions or tell them what they’re supposed to feel. Instead, use simpler questions that allow them to explore their own feelings: “Sounds like you were pretty excited.” Or simply, “Tell me more.”

And, of course, never, ever betray the customer’s trust by disclosing confidences. Let buyers know that what they tell you will stay between the two of you.

4. Question gently
The best interviewers often seem flat, even dull. They don’t come across as flashy or clever. They question gently, sometimes almost apologetically. At times it seems they hardly ask any questions at all.

That’s by design. An aggressive, machine-gun style is far less effective in getting people to open up. A few well-directed questions will usually yield better information.

Based on information from Bill Bachrach, a speaker, consultant and author of several books on high-trust selling. Info:

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