What does the DNA of a good question look like? Here are some helpful tips & advice about what comprises good client-facing questions:
Tip #1: Prompt a reaction with your questions, don’t just ask for information
Questions should ask clients to DO something (e.g. make a tradeoff, consider a scenario, etc) – or help you understand the process in which they would do something.
Good: Provoke a reaction using prompting phrases: “Would I be correct to assume…”, “If this were to happen, what…”, “If you had to do without…”, “How would you know if…”, “If you had to choose between the two…”
Bad: Just asking for information: “How many?”, “How much?”, “Who are all the stakeholders?”, “Is there budget?”, “Is it important?”
Tip #2: Ground questions in specific context
Questions should bring the client’s world into the discussion – which gives them a frame of reference which is necessary for clients to answer your question appropriately and can spark ideas.
Good: Situate questions within context: “Compared to X, Y, Z on your plate…”, “Your competitors are at 70%, does that number sound familiar?”, “Based on these unique circumstances, what would you need to change…?”
Bad: Speak in absolutes: “Would 500K savings be valuable?”, “You’re running at 60%-does that bother you?”
Tip #3: Use pacing phrases
Confirm before asking a follow-up question in order to build trust and show that you’re listening.
Good: Gain permission before asking follow-ups: “It sounds like you’re saying…”, “To keep my comments relevant, may I ask…”, “Interesting, can you share more about why…”
Bad: Probe abruptly or move forward with unrelated follow-ups: “Why would you do that?”, “Ok, thanks for that, now let me tell you about…”
Tip #4: Ask open-ended questions
Depending on the answer, the sales professional could learn how important the problem is, or who to talk to next.
Good: Ask open-ended questions: “What would happen if…”, “Why…?”, “What would you have to believe in order to…?”, “How will you…?”
Bad: Ask yes/no/close-ended questions: “Would it be valuable if…”, “Is XXX stakeholder bought in?”, “How many employees are there?”
Another way to diagnose if good questioning is happening is if the customer is actually talking during the sales call. Does the customer show emotion? Do they speak freely and for extended periods? Do they show open, engaged body language? If not, that’s a good sign that you need to work on the quality of questions you’re asking.
Tip #5: Listen and listen for their Listening
Apart from being receptive to the clients answer to a question, make sure the client “gets” the question and shares the same context or perspective.
Good: Establishing understanding: “I have an understanding of XYZ, could you share yours?” Not being attached to the answer to the question and showing genuine curiosity.
Bad: Rattling off a bunch of questions because of a preconditioned bias towards the answer or solution to a problem.
Source: Khalsa, Mahan and Randy Illig, Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play, Franklin Covey, 2008; Sales Executive Council research via The Sales Challenger™ » The DNA of a Good Question.