What is the most important question for salespeople to ask?

Guest Post by Bob Hayward

I challenge you to put this question to Google:  “What is the most important question for salespeople to ask?”

If you get similar results to me, you will be offered pages to read like:

  • 41 Sales Questions to Ask a Customer to Determine Their Needs
  • 18 Open-Ended Sales Questions That’ll Get Prospects Talking to You
  • 21 Powerful, Open-Ended Sales Questions
  • The 7 best sales questions ever

That last one got me all excited. Seven great questions could make a difference to many salespeople. Most salespeople could learn to use seven questions. Most prospects would give us the time to ask seven questions. Not many would allow us the time to ask 41 questions. At least not in one conversation.

In writing the Profit Secret with Nick Baldock we challenged ourselves to find a small number of keys to unlocking the profit in a transaction or business relationship rather than the keys to closing a sale. Sales can be vanity. “I have won $2M deal!” Sure, you did, on a 15% margin. Profit is sanity.

Our definition of selling is:

Selling is the process of enabling someone to discover something of relevant value to them, in a way that is profitable for us.

Every sale you make, and every business, can be built around these three keys: the relevant need, the meaningful value, and the fair profit. Profit is the secret that makes sales and businesses operate authentically. Profit forces us to become better at uncovering the relevant need, better at creating meaningful value and at explaining how our differentiating value more than justifies the higher cost. That is why profit is the secret to selling more at a higher margin.

In exploring the most important keys to unlocking profit two things kept coming up, developing a deep level of trust, and asking great, sometimes difficult, questions.

Of the two trust is the most important because it is the quality of a relationship that earns you the right to say or ask difficult things. The better the connection between you and another person, the easier it is to ask difficult questions, disagree or offer advice. Trust is a mechanism; by developing rapport and trust you earn the right to ask more meaningful questions, which increase your understanding of the other person. As you demonstrate that deeper understanding, you earn the respect of that person so gaining permission to ask even tougher questions. It is a virtuous self-sustaining circle.

A LinkedIn survey in the US, reported in The State of Sales 2018, confirmed that trust is key to closing deals. While 40% of sales professionals ranked trust as the No. 1 factor in closing deals, above R.O.I. and price; 51% of decision-makers ranked trust as the top factor they desire in a salesperson. Put it this way, as a salesperson, if you cannot be trusted, then nothing that you offer has any value.

So, if developing trust is of greater importance than asking the typical salesperson’s need finding or closing questions what questions must a salesperson ask to earn a prospect’s trust?

Building trust starts with two things: being trustworthy and being trusting. You must demonstrate that you can be trusted, and you must demonstrate a willingness to trust others. These two are opposite sides of the same coin. And that coin may be one of the most important components for you to win more sales at a higher margin.

How can you do that in the form of a question? What one question could you ask that which would accelerate the development of trust?

On the basis that trust starts with us, that question is one that must be directed at ourselves rather than the prospect. Why?

Because there is something in the minds of most prospects, conscious or non-conscious, that makes them nervous. Nerves undermine the development of trust. This comes from the paradox that not many of us like being sold to and yet most of us love to buy. Most of us do not like the idea of being cornered or pressured into a decision we are not sure of. We do not want to look foolish in the eyes of our friends or peers. We do not want to make a mistake. No one wants their arm twisted, cajoled into buying something we do not really need.

As a buyer, free to operate how we wish, we follow a buying process. More accurately a decision-making process. We move step by step from realizing that we have a need to research options, resolving concerns where there is not a perfect fit and drawing our own conclusions.

The salesperson has a sales process to follow. It differs from the buying process. Imagine, if you will, two people coming together to perform one dance and yet one party is doing the foxtrot and the other a waltz. If the two parties continue to dance differently someone is going to get their toes squashed or worse.

Surely if would be better for the two people to agree on which single dance they are going to perform beforehand, wouldn’t it? Then they have at least some chance of enjoying themselves as they take the various steps together. Surely, if the prospect felt the steps, they were taking in this dance with the salesperson were enjoyable and enriching dance they would simply keep taking the next step, they would simply keep dancing, wouldn’t they?

So, here is my turn-key question for salespeople. The single most important question a salesperson needs to ask themselves.

In the next fair and reasonable step, I am asking my prospect to take, what value will it add to the prospect regardless of whether they become a client in the end?

If you follow the logic and emotion of this question

  • The next step – is simply the next step in the prospect’s decision- making process. As the salesperson I am learning to execute each prospect’s dance one step at a time.
  • The next step is fair and reasonably in their eyes increasing the chances of them being happy to take it. The step is withing their remit. They are comfortable with taking that step. They are confident about taking it. There is little or no risk.
  • Regardless of the outcome the prospect gains meaningful value for the prospect. In someway it helps them on their decision-making journey. It helps them with their job.
  • The step is in their self-interest, not the salesperson’s. The salesperson in demonstrating that they can be trusted, and they are demonstrating a willingness to trust the prospect.

Most sales go to the first person to offer meaningful differentiated value in a way that demonstrate deep levels of trust.

Here is that single most important question a salesperson needs to ask themselves, again.

In the next fair and reasonable step, I am asking my prospect to take, what value will it add to the prospect regardless of whether they become a client in the end?

Note from Bob:  Bob Hayward’s newest book “The Profit Secret” releases today!  Purchase your book today by clicking HERE!

Bob Hayward


Bob Hayward is Co-Author of Four Amazon Best-Sellers, a popular international speaker, the host of the free weekly Thoughts on Thursday Webinar series and Managing Partner of Be More Effective – a UK Based Growth Consultancy.  You can connect with Bob Hayward on LinkedIn.




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