It is the most powerful weapon of all and appropriate for any sales situation, any product or service, and any type of customer or prospect. And yet most sales professionals don’t use it enough.

Disclosure and True Confessions.

I really did deserve to get fired from my very first sales position. I lasted three and a half weeks at Thom McCann Shoes before they fired me for “my inability to sell.” As he walked me to the door, my manager told me I ought to stick with something I could do, like bussing tables or washing dishes. I took his advice because I was too embarrassed to try sales again for a few years.

It wasn’t until I took a part-time sales job in college that I learned how to use the most powerful weapon in all of selling. Once I understood and mastered it, there wasn’t anything I couldn’t sell. It helped me and the sales teams who worked with me over the past 30+ years to deliver about a hundred billion dollars in sales!

Product-, Service-, and Sales Channel-Agnostic.

It works whether you are selling shoes or real estate, advertising or jet aircraft. It works whether you are selling retail, B2B, B2C, face-to-face, via virtual meeting, or over the phone. It doesn’t matter whether your products or services are priced at a few dollars or a few million dollars.

It works in every stage of the sale, from research to prospecting to initial appointments, from discovery to presentation to making a proposal, and from handling resistance to closing to following-up to managing the ongoing account relationship.

Every human being has the basic equipment that makes up the most powerful weapon in all of selling: a brain, two ears and a mouth.

Here’s the Secret.

The most powerful weapon in all of selling is this: asking effective questions whenever you speak with a prospect or customer. They are used in each and every stage of selling.

  • In prospecting, questions allow you to gauge a prospect’s initial areas of interest and need.
  • When meeting someone for the first time, questions demonstrate you are interested in them and what they have to say, especially when you demonstrate effective listening skills.
  • In a needs assessment, questions ensure that you uncover your prospect’s wants, needs, circumstances, motivations, and ability to make decisions.
  • During a presentation, questions help you confirm that the solutions you present match what was discovered during the needs assessment.
  • Questions reduce or eliminate potential resistance as you lead your customer through their own concerns.
  • Questions make the “close” the easiest part of the sale.
  • Questions help you assure your customer is delighted enough with their purchase to become a customer evangelist for you.

Let’s zero in on the needs assessment, and how questions help you dig down far beneath the surface, to uncover areas where you can relieve your customer’s pain:

1. Identify the top five to seven general problem areas you want to learn about. Create an opening question to begin your exploration of each problem area. Example: “Tell me about your current approach to {name the problem you want to learn about}”

2. Based on the answer, use a series of follow-up and deeper-level questions until you get to the root of the problem area. You want to learn about:

  • The circumstances surrounding the problem area,
  • His or her motivation in wanting to solve the problem (what it will do for him or her if it is solved),
  • His or her pain (what happens if the problem is not solved),
  • The priority given to solving this problem (relative to others you’ve identified), and
  • Who else besides your prospect will be involved in the purchase decision?

3. Repeat the process with each of the opening questions you created in Step 2 above.

Simple. Straightforward. Effective! It just requires the discipline to do it consistently…

The Common Question is Uncommonly Used.

Yet in working with thousands of salespeople over the years I find that performing an effective needs assessment is the selling discipline salespeople do least effectively. Many would rather tell the prospect about all the great things they offer and hope that something piques their interest. Or they ask a few initial questions at the start of a needs assessment before proceeding to “sell them” things.

A good needs assessment should never end. It starts with probing questions during your first meeting and can take 20, 30, even 40 minutes of good deep dialogue until your customer is convinced you really, really understand his or her unique situation and circumstances. It continues through the presentation as you discover how well-aligned your solution is with where your customer wants to be. It carries on after the initial purchase as you seek to both deepen and broaden your relationship with your customer.

Bottom Line.

Are you ready to make a serious commitment to mastering the most powerful weapon in all of selling? It will take being much more intentional about continuing to dig down after you uncover a potential application for your products or services. It will mean using questions to get to the root of pain inside every prospect and customer. And it will mean using questions to lead your customer to ownership.

Both you and your customers will benefit when you follow through and master the most powerful weapon in all of selling.

This article was excerpted from “Business-to-Business Sales Essentials,” a four-time winner of the Top Sales Training Program award.