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Good Questions, in the Right Sequence

In the balance of this chapter, we’re going to describe, step by step, how a seller would use a Solution Development Prompter to develop the buyer’s vision. First, though, it might be helpful to think about the different types of questions that can be asked, and when to use each:

  • Open questions require “essay” answers, allowing the buyer to take the conversation anywhere. Buyers feel safe, but the downside is that the conversation may not go in the direction the traditional salesperson wants to go. The only open question contained in Customer Focused Selling is: “What are you (or your organization) hoping to accomplish?” This allows buyers to talk—but if they don’t bring up a business objective, the salesperson has the menu of goals from the Targeted Conversations List as a safety net to steer the conversation.

  • Framing questions offer the best of both worlds, in that the buyer is free to expound, but the salesperson has placed boundaries on the direction the response can take. “How do you forecast today?” is not an open question, because the response will relate to a topic the salesperson wants to discuss: forecasting. Questions beginning with the word how help facilitate conversational sales calls. Buyers do not feel “sold” when salespeople ask framing questions.

  • Closed questions require short, specific answers. Potential answers to a closed question would include yes, no, a number, and so on. Closed questions are best used after framing questions, to drill down on and quantify specific areas. Also, note that the only way a salesperson can convert a usage scenario to a capability is by posing a yes/no question to the buyer and getting an affirmative response.

Once a buyer has shared a goal, we recommend starting with a framing question beginning with the words: “How do you ________ today?” It is a logical, safe question that is virtually guaranteed to get buyers to describe their current process, which is exactly where a Customer-Focused salesperson wants to go.

Once a buyer has responded, it is time to follow up with diagnostic questions, ideally biased toward usage scenarios that your offering provides. In order to accomplish this, as previously noted, we adhere to Stephen Covey’s concept of “starting with the end in mind.” That is the reason why, in Chapter 8, we developed the potential capabilities using the EQPA (event, question, player, action) formula, in the form of usage scenarios on the right side of the Solution Development Prompter. We then built the diagnostic questions on the left side (see Figure 8-1).

These diagnostic questions are now used to discover which usage scenarios the buyer is likely (and unlikely) to want. The salesperson follows up with the buyer by asking the questions in a sequence that flows within the call, takes detailed notes, and—when finishing the diagnosis—does a summary to make sure both the buyer and the seller are on the same page.

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