We can use them to uncover facts and figures or to learn about people’s feelings, opinions, ideas and attitudes.
We can test people’s knowledge to find out what they know or don’t know about a particular subject or situation.
Questions can be used to draw a person’s attention to a particular topic, or to draw them back into the conversation when their attention wanders. On a conference call or at a meeting, we can use questions to include and engage those who might tend to hang back.
Starting with Questions
Starting a sales conversation with questions instead of diving in with your spiel is a good way to engage others and get the ball rolling – especially if you’re feeling anxious at the outset. You can begin with simple background questions like, “How long have you had offices in this building?” Or ask polling type questions such as “What percent of your employees are satisfied with the current Benefit plan?”
You could also start by asking about people’s goals or intentions, “What’s the main thing you’d like to get out of this meeting?” or “When you’ve reviewed insurance in past years, how have things worked out?”
Questions come in many flavors – each serving a particular kind of role. Here’s a very quick overview of some of the most common types.
These can be simple yes or no queries that move the conversation into one column or another. Have you had any claims in the last three years?
Often beginning with how, what, or why, open questions require detailed answers and are effective for getting people to be more forthcoming with you about their needs and opinions. How do you feel about the service your current agent has been providing?
Don’t actually require an answer. They’re used to get people to focus on a topic, idea or problem. Ask yourself, what would you stand to lose if your refrigeration system was down for a full week?
In subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways, leading questions prompt an answer within a particular framework. They set up a context or draw attention a certain problem or possibility to get people thinking along particular lines.
How are you making out with your new insurance agent? There’s a subtle implication that there may be problems, that all may not be perfect.
Did you have a good sales meeting? points the respondent to thinking about good aspects of the meeting. In contrast, asking simply, How was the sales meeting? doesn’t offer any judgments or opinions about the meeting. It focuses more on details, and you’re more likely to get a more balanced answer.
Require some analysis and thought to evaluate a topic. For example, what skills can you bring to this organization that the other applicants cannot?
The Power of Silence
A simple three-second pause in the questioning process can add real poignancy.
Pausing either before or after asking a question highlights the importance of what’s being asked.
Pausing after the response encourages the person to say more and delve deeper.
Asking a person to take a moment and consider allows them the chance to think, remember, and organize their thoughts before answering.