Questioning in the sales process is so powerful when the technique is applied correctly. After you have grabbed the customer’s interest with an opening statement, you need to ask questions to find out what the customer really wants. It is almost as if you have to do this in order to earn the right to talk to them about your product or service afterwards.

However, the right type of questions need to be asked and this is where so many telemarketers go wrong. You need open-ended questions that get you more information – questions that keep the customer talking about themselves. These questions begin with “What, Why, Where, When, Who, Which and How”. So many telemarketers ask questions that will get a “yes” or “no” answer. These are called closed questions. They should be left until the end of the conversation when the customer is ready to buy the product, e.g. “Based on what we have discussed would you like to buy now?”

Mistakes telemarketers make!

Some of the mistakes that telemarketers make are that they start off telling you all about what they have to offer you and then end their presentation with a closed question which will, in most cases, get a “no” answer.

For example: the real estate person who rings and says, “Good morning Mr ______, I am from ______Real Estate. Are you thinking of selling your home in the near future?” (I ask, what rapport building is going on there?) This question gives me the perfect opportunity to say “no”.

The home improvement company who telephones and says, “Good evening Mrs ______ do you need anything fixed in your home right now?” again gives me the perfect opportunity to say “no”.

I recently had a lady telephone me and said; “Good morning Ms Cartwright, I am from _____ Hotel. We have a Gourmet Dining Club where you can dine for free once a week if you bring a client with you. Would you like to join our Gourmet Dining Club?” Once again, this lady gave me the perfect opportunity to disconnect the call to her.

In the above example, no question was asked as to whether what the lady had to offer was even relevant to me and my needs. The lady could have asked questions about my situation like; “How often do you dine out? How often do you entertain clients? What type of food do you like when eating out? How often do you entertain in the city?” Then, depending on my answers, the lady could adapt her sales presentation to what suited me.

These sorts of telemarketers are not securing sales, and yet they persist with ineffective techniques.

Guidelines for Effective Questioning

  1. Ask questions about the benefits of your product or service. For example, if you are selling a barbeque that is portable, easy to clean and has three speeds of heat, you would ask questions like; “How easy is your barbeque to clean? Is it portable? What happens when you want to cook a steak with really hot heat?This approach allows you to easily sell your benefits in your presentation that will follow.
  2. Ask questions that create pain around their existing situation.Think of three problems your customer may have that you are able to provide a solution for and then ask questions relating to the problems that were noted.For example, in the recruitment industry, a question may be:”How easy is it for you to find the right staff for the job when someone leaves?”

    “How much of your time is consumed sorting through resumes?”

    Or in other industries, questions such as:

    “What would happen if your existing supplier ran out of stock?”

    “How satisfied are you with the amount of business you are currently getting from your website?”

    “What area of your business would be most important to improve on right now?”

    “On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest, how would you rate the performance of your salesperson?”

  3. Be flexible enough to vary your scripted questions. For example, if the answer to the last question was five, you need to follow up that question with a related question like, “In which area of the sales cycle do you think that person could improve?” Ask an implication question to embellish the problem like, “How else could you use that time more effectively?” (to find out what the prospect really needs to do with their time) or “How much does it cost you in real terms to finance the downtime while looking for the right person, including the cost of retraining them?”
  4. Look for a need that you can fulfil and then sell them the benefits; e.g. “so Mr _____, if you were to employ our services, we could save you the time you are currently spending on processing resumes so you would have more time to do the things that you prefer to do. We could also save you from having the cost of the downtime between losing a staff member and finding the right replacement.”
  5. Sometimes, when telemarketers are not confident, they ask several questions at once. For example, they say “What makes you think your sales staff aren’t motivated? Is it a need to earn more money or do they need more training and how does that affect other departments?” This can be very confusing for the listener and counter-productive for the telemarketer.
  6. Ask no more than three questions or it may sound like an interrogation.
  7. After you ask a question, stop speaking, even if there is silence on the other end as the customer may be thinking about what to say. It is a big mistake to try to help them with their answer. You will have to start to get comfortable with silence.
  8. When the customer finishes responding to the question, pause, and if you need them to elaborate on their response, you can say; “Tell me more about that”.
  9. Finally, when you have asked all relevant questions and the customer has replied, repeat what they said they wanted back to them. Do not repeat what they want after each question, which is what some telemarketers do, as it becomes monotonous.

Jenny Cartwright – International Sales Trainer / Speaker / Coach
Author of “Don’t Get Hung up! – How to sell products and services by phone” and “Secrets of Top Sales Professionals.”
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