Are Your Questioning Techniques Stuck in the 80 s rec

Are Your Questioning Techniques Stuck in the 80’s?

Today’s article is going to get a little meta, as the question at hand are questions themselves.

The latest data shares that over 82% of customers research online long before engaging with suppliers, so what’s the point of asking questions to understand their needs? Surely the modern customer already knows about your products or service, so why not cut to the chase and demonstrate the features and benefits? Gone are the days where clients care to catch you up on their backstories and motivations, and they certainly don’t have time to sit through a presentation of info they already know. This begs the question, are questioning techniques as we know them dead? Not surprisingly, it’s a ‘yes & no’ kind of answer. Yes, we at Salecology firmly believe traditional questioning techniques have become as obsolete as your old Nokia, but that isn’t to say questions don’t have their importance in the customer’s journey.

It’s the kind of questions you’re asking that make all the difference, which is one of the many things we teach here at Salecology. Our specialty is training sales teams to modernize their approach, allowing them to get back in front of their customers and take the lead during consultations. Indeed, Salecology-sharpened individuals progress their skills beyond the salesmen of yesteryear into a modern era; one hallmarked by a desire customers have to be seen, heard, and understood more deeply than ever before. In this emerging era, salespeople need to be equipped with intuitive interpersonal aptitudes, subliminal influencing abilities, and perfect their personality pinpointing to better sell to today’s client.


The real difference is whether you are:

1: Leading with the solution

2: Leading the customer to the solution


Let’s take some typical background questions to identify where your customer’s minds are at. Examples like which of your products they’ve seen, what they like about them, what other products they’ve looked at, and so forth. These questions are to some extent, needed in order to connect them with the right product and show demonstrate features and benefits.

The problem with these types of questions resides in who they are for; spoiler alert, they aren’t for the customer. That’s because the customer already knows the answer to these questions, and so they have very little influence. The typical salesperson will now take that data and move onto pitch their product. What happens next is the customer will sit in judgement of your sales demonstration which typically end with some predictable objections:

1: Price Objection – Because the product has too many features, or more features than I’m really looking for, I don’t want to pay for stuff I don’t want or need…so do you have a lesser model or a cheaper option?

2: General Objection – You’ve told me the advantages of the features, and I can see why some people might want those, but it’s not really what I’m looking for.


Leading with the solution, therefore, will ultimately land you back in the history books alongside the salesmen of yesteryear; spraying details and praying the customer likes what you say – talk about old school.


Engage IQ and EQ in the Questions

And here we arrive at the crux of today’s article – the singular thing that will shift dated questioning techniques into high gear for the fast-paced world we live in – is to engage your customers logical rational brain around what they need to solve their needs but also to engage their irrational / emotional brain to create an emotional attachment to the product or solution. In reality it is the emotional part of the brain that makes up the bulk of the decision making.

Therefore, the real question all salespeople should ask themselves is ‘How effective are the questions I ask at influencing my customer’s mind and emotions?’ The truth is that us humans are overwhelmingly driven by our irrational brain, the emotional brain. Our desires and passions, our fears and dreams, these are the things that motivate us to take action. You can build as logical an argument as you’d like, you can list your product’s superior features and benefits till you’re blue in the face, but unless you link those things to the emotional drivers that lurk below the surface of your customer’s conscious mind, you won’t get them to bite. Without that appeal to the irrational brain, they will listen to your pitch and silently postulate the ways your product doesn’tmeet their needs.

Today’s salespeople need to provide insight into the problem, connect on an emotional level, and lead the customer to your solution in as subliminal and genuine a way as possible. To do this, focus on asking questions that your products and services can fix. In order to know what questions we should be asking, its useful to understand the kinds of questions that exist in the first place. This section will act as a quick guide for context.

Reflective Questions – Used to reflect back the last part of an answer to create your next question, allowing you to maintain flow while clarifying what the customer previously said. This forces the customer to think deeper about what they mean, showing that you are listening, and invoking more emotional and logical reflection.


Customer: “I’m looking for something modern.”

Seller: “Modern means a lot of different things to different people, when you say modern, what does that look like to you?” 


Direct Questions – Another useful clarifying tool. It is vital direct questions are asked one at a time and followed by silence to allow the customer to think and respond.


Seller: Why are you changing from what you already have?


Leading Questions – Deliberately designed to make the customer think in a certain way, pointing them in the desired direction. When used skilfully you can plant the answers in the customer’s mind and get better responses.


Seller: “You are no doubt concerned about sustainability and ensuring what you buy is friendly to the planet. What things have you currently considered for your project to keep it energy efficient?”


TED Questions – Short for ‘Tell, Explain, and Describe’, TED questions are powerful methods for gaining lots of information from one question. Deliberately open ended to encourage a longer response, TED questions come equip with subliminal influencing qualities. Because there is an implied command in the use of these words, it’s as if you are giving the customer an order. This can take people back to their childhood where their parents would use similar words, especially when paired with their first name, thus subconsciously raising the seller’s authority in the customer’s eyes.


Seller: Tell me John, how is this problem affecting your business right now?


Hypothetical Questions – Designed to project the customer forward in time and consider potential problems, consequences, or benefits with their current course of action. Don’t be afraid to combine hypothetical and reflective questions for maximum clarity.


Customer: “This issue has really hurt our company, it can’t continue”

Seller: “If it did continue, how exactly would that hurt you as an organisation?”

Customer: “It would make it impossible for us. My team just wouldn’t be able to cope”

Seller: ”If you could remove the threat of it happening again, what would it mean to you?”

Customer: “The pressure would be lifted, and we’d be able to hit the timeline ahead of us.”


Problem Question – Problem questions are not new for most salespeople but tweaking your problem questions you can engage customers emotionally into the sale. By adding words like ‘concerned’, ‘afraid’, ‘frustrated’, ‘dissatisfied’, and ‘annoyed’ when constructing these types of questions, you’ll get the customer to give you a lot more than just tell you the business pains.


Seller: “How worried are you that your team is wasting too much time on paperwork?”

Seller: “Is it frustrating when this issue impacts your ability to serve your customers?”


Value Questions – When a customer shares their problems it is often the time the salesperson dives in to show them how they can alleviate the pain. This is too early. Value questions are designed to maintain the customer’s involvement in the conversation and transition them from talking about negatives (current state) to thinking about the benefits a solution could bring (future state). Using questions like “If you could…” or “If you had your way…”, have the customer tell you the benefits of having the solution to their problem, thus planting the seed in their own mind that this product is right for them. In Neurological terms we call this “Priming”.  Remember, the answer lies in what the feature does, not what it is.


Wrap Up

So now you know the secret. Effective questioning has everything to do with engaging the customer’s emotions which encourages their brains to ‘switch on’ and provide well-reasoned responses. It’s about moving the customer into an inquisitive mindset and listening for the subconscious drivers that influence their behaviour. With strategic questioning, you can influence your customer’s thoughts and lead them towards your product in a way that feels genuine and collaborative. Remember that a single well-crafted, thought-provoking question is worth 100 fact finders that bore your customer and signal to them you haven’t done enough research. For more information on how you can take your sales teams to the next level, go to the contact us page.