“What the customer demands is last year’s model, cheaper. To find out what the customer needs, you have to understand what the customer is doing as well as he understands it. Then you build what he needs and you educate him to the fact that he needs it.” – Edna St. Vincent Millay

Many salespeople think that selling is about telling the customer who they are and what their company does. The modus operandi is to walk the customer through every item in their catalog, expecting the customer to say, “I like that one! Can I place an order now?”

If you’re making a lot of sales calls but aren’t getting the results you want, consider a different approach:

* Ask questions instead of opening up your catalog.

* Find out what the customer wants and needs instead of telling a long story about your company’s history.

* Give your customer what he asks for, not what you think he wants.

For the past few months, I’ve been working with Joan. She owns a computer-consulting firm and works very closely with several major computer-hardware vendors. During one of her joint sales calls, the hardware vendor’s sales rep turned on his notebook and proceeded to go through a 50-slide PowerPoint presentation. This took more than two hours.

Joan shared with me her frustrations — because after this two-hour meeting, she didn’t know anything about the prospect. Didn’t know what to do next. And wasn’t sure if she had even created an opportunity.

At the meeting’s conclusion, the prospect said he would call if he was interested. As we discussed the sales call, Joan admitted that this sort of thing happened to her all the time. “When do you ask questions of the customer?” I asked.

She said that “because these presentations take so long,” she always “runs out of time.”

“Why not skip the PowerPoint and just ask the questions?” I suggested.

“That way, you can find out what the customer wants and needs and then show him what he just asked for.”

After a bit of prodding, we uncovered the real problem. Joan didn’t see the question-asking process as important. She equated selling with talking, not asking questions (which involves listening). Moreover, because she didn’t place much importance on questioning the client, she wasn’t very good at it. “I feel much more confident when I’m talking than when I’m listening,” she confessed.

Over the next few days, we began creating questions. And Joan learned how easy it is to get the customer to tell her everything she wants to know. Here are five questions that could be asked in almost any selling situation:

1. “What are the three most important things you are trying to accomplish during the next six to 12 months?”

2. “What are three things that if you could do them better would dramatically improve your business?”

3. “What are your strategic initiatives for the coming year?”

4. “How have you used technology to increase productivity and efficiency?”

5. “What are your Web and Internet strategies?”

The beauty of asking these types of questions is that they generate and stimulate conversation.

Remember: Nobody ever ended a phone call or meeting when he was doing the talking! Last week, Joan was making cold calls and applied the “asking-questions” technique in a new way. She was speaking with Tom, a local business owner, and was coming up empty.

At the end of the call, she said, “We’re going to be offering a technology seminar in the near future. What topics would be of interest to you?” (Great question!)

Tom said that he would like to know more about computer security.

So, she asked:

* “Why is that a topic of interest for you?”

* “How do you handle your computer security at the present time?”

* “Have you had any security breaches in the past? What happened? What damage was done?”

Joan got a meeting with Tom — and found him to be a very interested prospect. The way these questions are worded generates and stimulates conversation. You aren’t asking for a meeting. You aren’t asking if the prospect wants to buy something. You aren’t asking if he has a vendor he’s working with.

There is NO PRESSURE!

By asking questions like these before asking for the appointment, any resistance to scheduling a meeting will dissolve like a cube of sugar in a glass of warm water.

Ask questions to find out what the customer wants and needs, and you’ll create more opportunities, close more sales, and have more money in your pocket.

EDITORIAL NOTE:

If you want to get better results on the phone you need to have a great Elevator Speech. In Jeffrey Mayer’s best-selling eBook “Opening Doors with a Brilliant Elevator Speech” you’ll learn how to say who you are and what you do in 10-seconds or less.