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From Chapter Nine
"Sell, Lead, Think: Use Questions to Transform Your Organization"

on the definition of a sale

IQ -- defined below
"Research has shown that successful salespeople ask up to 58% more questions than do unsuccessful ones."
-- Peter McKennirey, sales training consultant

Here’s my definition of a sale:

A sale is a series of questions designed to uncover needs and wants, build relationships, and foster commitment.

As you can see from this definition, I consider questioning central to the art of selling. And people who embrace this definition will forever think and act differently in regard to selling. Yet, like other businesspeople, most salespeople have absorbed the dominant telling culture. This impairs their performance in measurable ways. To put it bluntly, the biggest problem with most salespeople is that they talk too much - they tell rather than ask their clients and customers. As a result, they turn people off, fail to gather essential information, and miss opportunities to build relationships, win allies, and make deals. The sales they do make come about through the sheer quality of their products and services, and their success rate is only a fraction of what it could be.

on how an objection is an unanswered question

As every salesperson knows, even when you are armed with a thorough knowledge of your customer and her needs, the road to a sale is rarely free of potholes.

One of the continual challenges faced by salespeople is resistance from the customer who, for reasons good or bad, is unwilling to follow where you want to lead him or her-toward a sale. The power of questions can help here, too. The secret is a simple one: Treat objections as unanswered questions. Act as if the customer has asked you a question rather than given you a statement of rejection. Restate it in question form if you like. Then respond to the question posed, as in these examples:

Prospective client:Your product really isn't any different from anything else on the market.
Salesperson:Are asking what really makes our product unique? Then let me explain . . .
Prospective client:Your product is too expensive.
Salesperson:It seems you're wondering why our product is worth a slightly higher price than the competition's. Am I right? The reason is . . .
Prospective client:Your product is too complicated to use.
Salesperson:Perhaps you want to know what training is available to help you easily use all our outstanding product features. Would that address your concern? Here's what we provide . . .

on some simple steps to take to create a questioning culture

Changing from a telling to a questioning mind-set must begin at the top. If employees do not see their managers and top executives using an open style of communication, including the power of questions, they will never adopt such a style themselves. Moreover, a company that wants to encourage questioning must also reward it. This can be done in a host of ways, some subtle, some obvious.

  • Model the questioning culture. Start with yourself. Whatever your role in your organization - whether you are a leader, a follower, or, like most people, a little of both - begin consciously to respond with positive body language and speech to the questions you are asked on the job. It is not easy to do this, especially when your first emotional reaction is anxiety, uncertainty, or anger. Slow down. Smile, repeat the question, and perhaps buy time with a friendly comment like, "Good question! Let me try to come up with a helpful answer." The more you model such positive responses to questioning, the more other people will feel encouraged to behave in the same way.

  • Build questioning into every business activity. Whether it is a formal or informal meeting, a sales call, a phone conference with a client, a presentation by human resources or management, or an announcement of good or bad news, allow time in your agenda for questions and encourage people to ask them.

  • Create multiple platforms for asking and answering questions. If your company or department newsletter does not have a question-and-answer page, create one - and encourage hard-hitting rather than softball questions. Why not offer two tickets to a show or a dinner out as a reward for each month’s best question? Mount a question box by the water cooler, and post responses on the bulletin board nearby. For larger businesses it may be a good idea to create a company-wide telephone hot line or e-mail address for employee questions - the sensitive kind of worker may feel uncomfortable about asking in an open forum or in front of a supervisor. Consider appointing a corporate ombudsman to answer questions and troubleshoot when ordinary channels do not work. Have the CEO and others in top management hold periodic press conferences at which employees are encouraged to ask anything they wish. And, of course, use your company’s web site to supplement all these forums.

* Also appearing throughout the book are sections headed by the letters IQ. That stands for either "interesting quote" or "intelligent question." Each section contains words of wisdom on the subject of questions.

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