What is the best way is to start a conversation? Ask the other person a question.
We learn by asking questions.
Smart business people never stop asking questions. Your prospect probably forms their opinion about you based more on what you ask them, than on what you tell them.
“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers” - Voltaire
For salespeople in a Needs Analysis, it’s good to begin with easy-to-answer, open-ended questions. These questions help you establish common ground and build rapport quickly.
When you’re focused on asking questions, it’s easy to be thinking most about the question you should ask next. And in the process, not really listening to the answer to the question you just asked.
Don’t make that mistake. Be fully present and just listen. The next question you will need to ask will come.
I never learned anything talking. I only learned asking questions. – Lou Holtz
You might be thinking, but what if I’m so busy listening, that I don’t have my next question ready? Well, in that case, a moment of silence is OK. Become comfortable with silence while asking questions. A moment of silence gives everyone a chance to process.
And when you are in doubt about what to ask next, you can always follow up with, “Why is that?” or “Interesting, tell me more.”
Ask your questions in a casual, friendly manner. You don’t want your prospects to feel like you're firing off questions from a form. Now, you may have a form, but your questions should be woven into a two-way conversation. Ideally, connect your next question to something they have said previously.
My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions. – Peter Drucker.
The art of asking questions is not just for sales, it's a life skill. Try asking more questions in your daily life. The more questions you ask in non-sales settings, the more natural it will be when your are in your Needs Analysis meeting. And besides the practice, asking more questions may improve those relationships too.
Try to see how long you can go responding to others with a question. Sincere questions that show interest in what is being said. Be sure to stop short of the point where someone wants to punch you in the nose.
How will you get in the habit of asking more questions?
Download The Art of Asking Questions.
*Editor's Note: This blog was originally written in 2013 and has since been updated.