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Secret weapons: Open-ended questions and listening

 

Salespeoples Secret Weapon, Open Ended Questions and ListeningJoe Smith, a salesman with ABC Industrial Supplies, called on a prospect, the Wagner Chemical Co., in January. He met with the company’s purchasing agent, Allison Stevens, who spent twenty minutes with the visitor. No sale. Two months later, Angela Jones, another sales professional at ABC, called on the same company. She, too, met with Allison Stevens for twenty minutes. But the following day, Wagner Chemical signed a long-term, highly-profitable supply deal with ABC.

The business climate was unchanged from January to March, and Smith and Jones were selling identical products and services. Why, then, did they get such different results?

More than likely, Angela Jones asked better questions of Wagner’s purchasing agent, and listened closely to what the agent had to say. More specifically, Miss Jones asked the agent open-ended questions, and not only heard the responses, but actively listened to them.

Joe Smith heard the purchasing agent’s responses to his questions, but he wasn’t listening. There’s a big difference: “Hearing” simply means an auditory signal was picked up and acknowledged by the brain. No special skill is required. “Listening,” on the other hand, is a fine art, like playing the piano.

Smith may have greatly diminished his odds of success by asking “closed-ended” questions—questions that can be adequately answered with a simple Yes or No. Such questions typically begin with the words “do,” “is,” “are,” “can,” “should,” “would,” or “does.” This type of question is asked by unskilled sales people or those with little experience. Seasoned professionals are aware that “closed” questions needlessly limit the amount of information the prospect will share. Joe Smith’s pre-prepared questions were “dead ends” that led nowhere, and he failed to listen.

Angela Jones prepared a few questions in advance of her appointment with Wagner Chemical, but the majority came to her during the discussion with the purchasing agent. When Allison Stevens mentioned a problem with a particular product, Miss Jones encouraged additional discussion by asking open-ended questions: What departments have been affected and what kind of feedback have you received? What have your customers had to say about this? To what degree has morale declined at Wagner Chemical as a result?

Miss Jones obtained enough information to explain how a similar product from AAA could eliminate the problems plaguing Wagner Chemical. She did so by listening actively, and by asking open-ended questions. So should you.

If you would like to learn more about training salespeople and teaching them the skills needed to ask the write questions, listen to the responses and ultimately close the sale, contact us for more information about our custom sales training program.

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