It's no secret that asking good questions is the key to successful selling.
And in theory, professionals should be great at asking questions. It's one of the main tools in their armoury when they're working on an engagement. The skill of consultants, lawyers, accountants, architects and other professionals to question to get under the skin of a client's problems, needs, ambitions or issues is critical to their ability to resolve those issues.
But questioning to sell is different.
When we question as part of an engagement we primarily drill for root causes and underlying needs. We explore every angle to ensure we develop the right solution.
But when questioning to sell, we need to primarily drill for impact. It's helping clients understand the full impact of their issue, problem or ambition that will make the difference between the client hiring us or not.
Why is that?
Well, in the majority of situations when dealing with clients, we're the experts and our clients aren't. One of the characteristics of being an expert is that we're able to see things – to make leaps of logic and insight – that our clients can't.
An HR consultant, for example, intuitively knows that low morale amongst customer service staff takes a heavy toll on productivity, employee turnover and service levels. When she spots a a morale issue she knows just how serious it is. But her client often doesn't.
Because she's the expert, she jumps quickly to talking about possible solutions to the problem – hoping to demonstrate her expertise and impress the client. But because the client hasn't seen the true impact of the situation, the solutions look expensive and unnecessary.
Instead, she should ask questions to help the client understand the true depth of the situation. What is employee turnover in customer services like? How much does it cost to replace an employee who leaves? What about the impact on customer service levels of high turnover? How does this affect sales? etc.
These smart, impact-focused question not only demonstrate expertise, they help the client realise how important an issue low morale is. Then when a solution is proposed, it won't look out of kilter with the size of the problem.
How do you get good at asking impact questions? Start by listing the typical problems your services address, or opportunities they enable. Then for each problem or opportunity brainstorm a full and broad list of the potential impacts. It's even more powerful if you can identify how these impacts can be measured and converted to their effect on the bottom-line.
That list of impacts can then be used to create powerful questions that really help clients see the severity of their situation. And that, more than anything else, will help motivate a sale.