I believe the most important principle salespeople can employ is effective questioning.  

Too often, salespeople are so anxious to tell their story to potential buyers that they just jump right in to presenting their products or services to the unsuspecting buyer.  They have a tendency to “throw-up” all over them in hopes that some of what they say will stick. I remember years ago watching a Disney movie called Pete’s Dragon. There was a scene in the movie about traveling salesmen selling an elixir, or potion, that would cure any ailment from hearing problems to crippled legs.  It didn't matter what was ailing the person, the potion would cure it. Many salespeople have the same approach, as their presentation implies, “Let me tell you about my product, I’m sure you will discover that you have a need for it.”

There is no way to effectively solve a problem or relieve the pain of a prospect without first diagnosing their situation.  You would have absolutely no trust in a physician who didn’t properly diagnose your condition before prescribing medication or scheduling surgery.  Why then, would you suggest to anyone the value of your product before first discerning his or her needs? And yet, it happens every day in the world of selling.  Here is a basic and simple rule for salespeople to follow: Diagnose first and then prescribe a cure, not the other way around.

The most important reason to ask questions before telling your sales story is to make sure you are sharing the information that is of most value to the prospect.  When you take the time to truly understand a prospect’s situation, you will most likely provide them with the correct solution. Prospects want their needs met and their problems solved, that's what salespeople are supposed to do.  In the process of discovering their needs, you are building trust and confidence in yourself and your company. The buyer will feel comfortable and more willing to trust your advice as they realize you understand their situation. Never forget, people buy from people they believe, like and trust.  Repeat sales are built on the foundation of trust which develops through effective questioning.

In 2006, I purchased a crystal ball.  I can look into my crystal ball and discover everything I need to know in order to make a sale.  Now, we both know the magic powers of a crystal ball are not real, but I truly do have one. In reality, there is nothing that could be revealed in a crystal ball, if they were truly magical, that I could not discover through asking the proper questions.  Questions are without exception, the most important principle of sales. Crystal ball questions not only reveal what is necessary in order to close a sale, but they also demonstrate you care enough about the prospect to ask the deep, probing questions that can solve problems.  You can’t ask too many questions if the intent is to help the prospect.

Here is a list of ten things that can be accomplished through effective questioning:

  1. Build trust and confidence
  2. Discover the needs, wants and desires of the prospect
  3. Understand how the prospect makes a profit
  4. Help the prospect increase their profits
  5. Provide a specific solution for the problem
  6. Solve problems more quickly
  7. Learn their passion
  8. Build rapport
  9. Guide the prospect to arrive at the correct conclusion
  10. Identify future sales opportunities