Are you raising the next generation of sales superstars?

We have all learned the importance of asking questions during our sales process! If a salesperson spends time telling prospects why they should buy instead of finding out why they would buy, they are probably in the wrong profession. Highly effective salespeople understand that asking thought-provoking questions force prospects to look more deeply at the problems they are experiencing. As much as 70% of the salespeople's time in front of a prospect should be focused on asking penetrating questions that get to the root of the prospect's issues.

Children have perfected this questioning model. They base it on three key qualities: curiosity, inquisitiveness and wonderment! Think of any conversation you have had with your children and you will realize they have subtly gained the upper hand with the questions they asked you.

I recently eavesdropped on a conversation between a father and daughter outside a toy store as I was having a cup of coffee in a mall. I listened as this cute little girl asked her father if they could go into the toy store to shop for her birthday gift. He explained why they couldn't as they were rushed for time and had to hurry home. She asked him "why" and he reported that her mom was expecting him to help cook dinner since company was coming. She asked "why," and he said because he was out late the night with his friends having a few "adult beverages" and he needed to get out of the "doghouse." She asked "why," and he explained that if he didn't help, he would be given the silent treatment on Sunday afternoon when all he wants to do is relax and watch the Masters golf tournament. She asked "why" and he said, "Marriage is hard and you have to make compromises to get along." She asked "why," and he said, she would understand someday, so why they don't just go in the toy store and look around! A simple question about toy shopping turned into a deep discussion. Imagine the success salespeople would have if they used this "5 why" questioning strategy!

In my experience, salespeople would close more sales if they would practice the same questioning skills that children have used on their unsuspecting parents forever. How many times does the salesperson find out "why" the prospect is asking certain questions or why they are reluctant to take certain action? Prospects never ask salespeople the "real" question, they only ask questions of "intent." Skilled sales professionals understand that asking probing questions helps the prospect discover their true reasons to buy.

Here are five key strategies they use to focus on the prospect's core issues and gather critical information necessary to assure the sale:

1. Stop mind-reading and determine what the prospect is really trying to communicate to you. Far too many salespeople believe they can anticipate the prospect's response based on the way others have responded to similar questions.

2. Listen with both ears instead of playing the "name that tune" game with your prospects' responses. Many salespeople cut them off as they need to show how smart they are by finishing their sentences.

3. Practice active listening. Start saying, "Can you tell me more about that ..." when prospects ask you a question or give you a vague response.

4. Focus on exploration. Be curious and delve into everything your prospects say to you.

5. Focus on asking "why" 5 times and you will be surprised at the information you will gather.

Children have perfected the art of "Why!" They never accept the first response made by their parents and, by doing so, really separate initial responses from the truth below the surface. Salespeople need to emulate this childlike behavior as it is the key to getting to the real issue on any prospect's mind.

• Bill Bartlett owns Corporate Strategies, A Sandler Training Center. Text "salestip" to 35893 to receive Bill's biweekly newsletter.

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