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The Most Powerful Tool In a Sales Conversation

Most salespeople talk too much. The more you tell, the less you sell.

If you want to close a lot more sales, do nothing but ask questions for the first half of your client interview. The payoffs to asking questions are enormous as I explain in this article. Questions increase your sales in 5 ways to:

  • Direct your clients thoughts
  • Find out the necessary facts
  • Determine the “emotional facts”
  • Increase your stature and credibility in the prospect’s eyes
  • Maintain control of the conversation

Direct Your Prospect’s Thoughts

How would you like to make your prospects think what you want them to think? You can indeed direct your prospect’s thoughts with your questions. Before we proceed, would you make a mental picture of a large gray elephant for me? With this simple question, I can make you form a mental picture and you can consistently direct your prospects mental activity in the same way. I know one super sales person who asks prospects, “What are your plans when your health fails?” Immediately the client’s thoughts and mental pictures turn to scenes in a hospital bed or wheelchair. Questions are your most powerful tools for closing more sales.

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Additionally, questions allow you to find out the facts (how much money they have, how much taxes they pay, how are their current investments allocated, what insurance do they have) and protect yourself. You must have all of these facts before you can ever ethically and legally discuss any recommendations (know your client rule).

Emotional Questions

More importantly, questions allow you to determine emotional preferences; what do you like/not like, what’s comfortable/uncomfortable, what do you move toward/away from? Do you feel comfortable with the stocks you own, or nervous? If you became disabled tomorrow, what would you feel remorse about not having completed? These feeling questions are critical. They keep you from making recommendations that will never fly with your prospect.

Junior financial advisors often think their job is to do the “best thing” for the client and to have lots of product knowledge. The best thing for a particular prospect might be tax sheltered growth and the advisor therefore recommends a variable annuity. But if the prospect is afraid of market fluctuations, then this recommendation is dead in the water before it is spoken! Therefore, the “best thing” is an appropriate recommendation that your prospect also feels comfortable with. And you can only know what’s comfortable by asking questions.

Gain Stature

Questions communicate to the prospect that you are a professional and that you are thorough, that you get all the facts before starting into a sales pitch. You position yourself as a true advisor, a knowledgeable expert, rather than salesperson. (Think about a visit to the doctor. Notice how he relentlessly asks questions and hesitates to make any diagnoses until he is 98% sure? If you did the same with your prospects, your closing ratio would soar).

Maintain Control of the Sales Conversation

Questions allow YOU to control the conversation. If the prospect starts firing questions at you, and you start answering them, who is in control of the conversation? You’ve lost it and the probability of a sale is very low. Picture an intersection full of traffic. Do you want to be the cop in the center directing the traffic or one of the drivers being told to make a left turn? Questions allow you to stay in control of the sales conversation.

As you see, the lost art of asking questions can cost you dearly. Where can you learn this skill? The best book I have seen is Neil Rackhams’s Spin Selling and Spin Selling Field Book.

Even when you do start to tell, end each explanation in a question and give your statements real power, as in this example:

This mutual fund has had a five-star ranking, the highest rating, for the last 15 years. And you do want the best, don’t you?

By ending every explanation or paragraph in a question, you have the prospect “buy in” and you also test their temperature. If you ask the above question and they stare into space or start squirming, you know right away something is off, that you are misreading the prospect. You can than ask, “That fact seemed to make you uncomfortable. Did it?”

Employ questions for a powerful increase in your closing ratio. That would be great, wouldn’t it?


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© 2008 Financial keynote speaker—Larry Klein