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Question-Based Selling: 9 Killer Questions for Sales Calls Ed Chessman March 14, 2023

"Knowledge itself is power."—Sir Francis Bacon in his work Meditationes Sacrae (1597)

As sales professionals, we have lots of knowledge about many things: our company, our product or service, our competitors, our killer features, the best tools for doing our jobs; you name it, we've got some knowledge of it, right?

But what about knowledge of our sales prospects? How much do salespeople really know about the pains and priorities of our prospects? According to one report, only 13% of customers feel that a salesperson comprehends their needs.

So the logic seems straightforward: as sales people, we lack the power to close deals because we don't understand our customer's needs. Perhaps it's time to change our approach, and that's exactly where question-based sales come in. It's a proven sales technique for asking the right questions and listening carefully to the answers.

A conversation that uses question-based selling builds trust early in the relationship.

So, what exactly is question-based selling?

Two people having a conversation

Question-based selling is a technique that focuses on asking questions to gather information. It is used early in a sales process to uncover and build a full understanding of a prospect's needs, challenges, and goals.

Asking questions creates sales conversations. Asking well-thought-out questions provides the chance to demonstrate expert knowledge early in a sales process. Potential buyers assign greater credibility to sales professionals who talk in their language. To do this means being well prepared, so come armed with targeted questions to get things started.

The importance of active listening in question-based selling

active listening

Active listening means being fully present and engaged while talking to someone. It allows you to fully absorb what is being said.

Once you've asked a question, switch to active listening mode to really hear and understand what they're saying.

A consistent sales process starts by asking open-ended questions followed by active listening and confirmation statements to demonstrate you understand prospects' needs and requirements.

Sales conversations should never be rushed. Reflect on what's being said to leverage your understanding to probe details and eliminate any assumptions. Ask the right questions to clarify and confirm your understanding and use open-ended questions to explore concerns.

One of the benefits of using active listening combined with question-based selling is that it allows you to personalise, tailor, and sell your product or service to a prospect's exact needs, pains, or challenges.

5 killer discovery questions for sales reps

A team of people asking discovery questions

It is important to gather a full understanding of an opportunity early in the sales process as doing so will help you close sales and win more deals.

Here are some examples of great sales questions to ask new business prospects or to discover more about an opportunity:

1. “Can I help you?”

Ok, this question is overplayed in retail shops everywhere, but it's actually the perfect sales question when asked at the right time. Most buyers start their journey by looking for potential solutions online. Glass helps companies understand when website visitors are actively interested in evaluating whether to purchase and is a great solution to time this question to perfection.

And when someone says yes, question-based selling provides the perfect strategy for any sales team to engage and qualify a prospect for new sales opportunities.

2. “How do you think I can help?”

This is my favourite opening question during a sales meeting because it pushes your prospect to get straight to the point: what is the pain or challenge you think my product can solve? Understanding the level of pain provides an excellent indication of the timeline because everyone acts faster when pain is intolerable.

3. “Can you tell me about your role?”

We all like to talk about ourselves. This open question invites a person to talk about their priorities, their focus on active projects, and some of the problems they are encountering. The right questions can help with identifying personal motivations, secret agendas, or other internal politics that may impact the success of the deal.

4. “What is the business problem you are trying to solve?”

Why do they really need to change? Knowing the business requirement driving the need to change enables you to calculate the real value of the business opportunity. This question will also provide insight into the project's priority and help you understand which stakeholders will be involved.

5. “How do you do things today?”

This is a belter to ask during the discovery phase. It allows you to discover how a certain task or process is actually done, the tools that are used, and most importantly, uncover what problems they are really facing and therefore trying to solve. Ask probing questions to gauge the depth of the problem and explore other hidden opportunities.

4 essential qualification questions

Spreadsheets on a table

Once we understand the value of our solution, now we ask qualification questions to determine if it's a good deal to pursue or not.

1. “Does a budget exist?”

I've yet to meet a sales manager that doesn't frown when a salesperson can't answer this simple question. But just yes or no isn't sufficient: it's important to also understand who owns the budget so you can shape your plan accordingly.

2. “What is your buying process?”

This is a whole different beast to knowing who makes the buying decision. Corporate procurement is a dark and nebulous place. How do you become an approved supplier? Does an IT standards committee hold a veto? Should you expect security audits and financial due diligence? There are often many hidden hurdles that need clearing before you’ll get that signed contract.

3. “When can we start a trial?”

This question does achieve two things: first, it establishes the true timeline for when things will happen. It also enables you to offer to help, which is always a great move to ensuring a successful outcome. Concierge onboarding is a great way to support a trial and minimise the time it takes new users to learn a product.

4. “Can I send you a contract to review?”

It's good practice to ask closing questions throughout the sales process, and it's never too early to ask a prospect to start reviewing a contract. However, the answer they provide will give you good insight into the timeframe of an opportunity.

Final thoughts

Question-based selling allows you to develop a complete understanding of a prospect's needs, challenges, and goals. By asking great questions we go deeper than just developing knowledge of the facts. We start to understand the why, too.

Question-based selling encourages active listening, allowing you to discover what's really important to your prospects. Stop flying in the dark and start winning more leads and driving better sales conversations by asking smarter questions.

Happy selling, folks!

Ed Chessman is founder of cowXsales, a startup sales consultancy. He has created and closed over $22M in new business revenue leading sales for global software companies and early stage startups. Early stage tech startups are Ed’s true love where he enjoys working with founders to build great products. Ed lives on the south coast of England where he enjoys spending time with his family, running in the South Downs, and trying to master the art of sea swimming. 


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