Need to sell?Then Start asking the right questions…

Posted on July 28, 2011


Being good at sales it is one of the best qualities one can have, whether you are a company providing a service, a manager looking to get a bigger budget for a project or a job hunter.  All three have to sell something: the idea that the service is vital, that the budget increase is fundamental for project success, or that they are the best person for the position.  The trouble is, even professional sales people are often not as good at their job as they think they are. Here is a short story we can learn from:

A friend of mine got a phone call recently from someone trying to sell him a holiday. The salesperson was talking non-stop for about 10 minutes, explaining how great their company was, how competitive the prices were etc. but in the end didn’t manage to get a sale.  Why?  The problem was quite simple; the caller forgot to ask some fundamental questions (like those below) before starting their pitch:

1)Do you like going on holiday?  Meaning, is my product of any interest to you? If it isn’t, it doesn’t matter how good the service is, how important the budget increase is, or how many qualifications you have, you are unlikely to get a sale.

2)Are you the person who makes the financial decisions in your household? Meaning, are you the decision maker? Can I sell to you?

3)How much are you able to spend on your next holiday?  Meaning, how much can you afford to pay me for my services, my project or my salary.

4)Where would you like to go to?  Meaning I need to know if I can get you to where you want to go.  Do I have a product that might interest you?

These 4 questions are fundamental partly because they make the potential customer feel the conversation is about THEM rather than about the product, but also as they will help the sales person establish the best way to approach the pitch (and indeed, whether it is worth trying to sell anything at all to this particular customer).  If this is the case, at least you won’t waste precious time trying to sell what might be a fantastic product to someone who is either not interested in it or not in a position to buy it.

If the sales person had asked all these questions of my friend, the conversation would probably have ended after about 20 seconds and saved them both some time.  Even if all the responses were positive the sales person would have been much better informed and could better tailor his pitch to the needs/interests of the customer.

So, if you are selling the service, explain how your product will help the customer. If you are selling a project to the directors, highlight the importance of the project outcome. If you are being interviewed for a job, explain how your skills would help to solve the company’s problems (i.e. due to your skill at managing people, projects etc.)

Next time you try to sell something to someone, make sure you start with a few fundamental questions (like those above) so as not to direct your time and effort at a dead end.