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The key to selling: Asking the right questions

August 2, 2018

Carefully preparing questions to ask a client not only gets you the information you need but also demonstrates you have their best interests at heart.

Bart Shachnow

Sales Performance Director

As Sales Performance Director, Bart, with the help of his team, develops and delivers a broad range... About this expert

Account Development Tip August 2018

It never ceases to amaze me how many superficial — even timid — questions brokers will ask prospects or clients. Many brokers tell me they’re afraid of being too intrusive or wasting the person’s time. Sometimes they think that a lengthy session of questions and answers will rob them of the opportunity to talk about what they want to sell.

These are all faulty assumptions. As the adage goes, you’re given two ears and one mouth, so you should probably be listening twice as much as talking during this information-gathering phase.

Most people are happy to discuss issues that concern them or keep them up at night (heaven knows there is an overabundance of those in our industry). That relates to both factual and objective information (e.g., “Where does the company plan to expand in the coming year?”), as well as emotional or subjective issues (e.g., “What do you like about your current carrier(s) for your property program, and what do you think could be working better?”).

Generally, people like to talk more than they like to listen or ask thoughtful questions. You frequently hear someone say, “Boy, that guy can’t stop talking,” or “I can’t get a word in edgewise with her.” You rarely, if ever, hear someone say, “Wow, she asked so many great questions that I almost missed my train!”

A visit to the doctor offers a useful analogy for why asking the right questions is essential in some circumstances. It wouldn’t give me confidence in my physician if I went in for my annual physical exam and he said, “You know Bart, you look fine. Your cheeks are rosy and you appear upbeat and alert, so I see no need to proceed any further. See you for another physical next year.” No, he won’t. A patient expects a deeper inquiry in that scenario.

I’ll talk a lot more about asking the right questions in future columns, but for now, here are a few thoughts to get us started:

Setting meeting objectives can help you formulate your questions. What are you trying to achieve with your prospect or client? What questions do you need to ask to help accomplish your objectives?

Prepare questions in advance. This doesn’t mean you need to be limited to only the questions that you planned. To the contrary, the responses you hear may lead to additional and fruitful areas of inquiry. The point is that planned questions can start you down a productive and useful path. You should be as prepared as you can be by evaluating any and all relevant company information that might be available through the company’s website, financial statements, industry news, insights from colleagues who have worked on the account, and other sources of information.

Ask follow-up questions (and follow up on the follow-ups). This is what being an active listener is all about, and it demonstrates to your client or prospect that you are responsive and concerned. Follow-up questions can provide additional insights and information about a situation. They could help you identify, for example, the urgency (or even lack thereof) within a particular situation, or who needs to be involved in the decision-making process.

Never, ever ask questions when you know, or should have known, the answers. Your clients and prospects are busy people. They will be impressed if you use your time with them efficiently and productively, which assumes that you did the aforementioned preparation and homework. They will have the opposite reaction if your questions suggest a lack of preparation or that you’re asking questions just for the sake of asking them.

As always, I appreciate your feedback (positive or negative), questions or comments. Please email me your thoughts.