As a sales manager and a sales consultant, I have witnessed literally thousands of sales calls with competent and hard-working salespeople—professionals who have done their homework on the prospect, prepared thought-provoking questions that make it obvious they know something about the prospect’s business, and who pose questions with a genuine interest in hearing the answers. Sometimes it is magical and they help the prospect clarify a specific problem that needs to be addressed or an opportunity on which they would really like to capitalize. And, sometimes, all they do is get their questions answered and move on. Too bad.
What makes the difference between an interactive conversation that engages the prospect and one that is rote and turns into simply an information-gathering exercise? Follow up questions. Good follow up questions are never scripted. Good follow up questions show you were listening, that you are interested, and that you really need to learn more about the headline the prospect has just shared. Some simple open probes can reveal a lot of context and detail you need to know about a problem or opportunity—information you will probably never get if you simply move on to your next beautifully-crafted question. For example:
- That’s interesting. Tell me why you say that.
- What do you mean by that?
- Really? Tell me more about that.
The follow up probes become even stronger when you add the headline from what you just heard:
- So, tell me why the change in zoning is going to affect you more than your competitors.
- Tell me more about why it’s been so tough to get people to book appointments on your website.
These are the same open probes as above but show you have been listening closely. They get prospects talking about things they are very interested in, and they reveal information you and your team will need if you are going to tailor a solution. So, have a few of these handy probes ready to pepper in between the questions you prepared in advance. The conversation will seem a lot more natural, you will learn more, and the prospect will see that you are listening and genuinely interested in improving his or her business. You do need to prepare a number of timely and topical questions, but, some of the most impactful questions you ask could never be prepared in advance.