Using Questions to Close the Sale

Excerpted from “Secrets of Closing the Sale” by Zig Ziglar (1926-2012)

Question: How do you persuade people to take action?

Answer: You persuade by asking questions which lead the prospect to a conclusion which demands that he take action because it becomes an idea which he (the prospect) originated. This is pressure which the prospect puts on himself. It’s internal pressure and it’s powerful.

You persuade by asking questions which lead the prospect to a conclusion which demands that he take action because it becomes an idea which he (the prospect) originated.

To paraphrase Socrates—who may have said it best—“If you make a statement to which your prospect will readily agree (cannot refute), then ask a series of questions based on that agreement, and then ask a concluding question based on those agreements . . . , you will force the desired response.” This is precisely the method used by successful trial attorneys to transfer their feelings to juries.

Selling Isn’t Telling—It’s Asking

The ability to ask questions—much like the ability to modulate and use your voice properly—is a skill which is badly neglected and underdeveloped in the world of selling. It’s a skill which we as people have unlearned. I say this because the average six-year-old child, under normal circumstances, will ask something like four to seven hundred questions a day, while the average college graduate will ask approximately thirty. If you know anything at all about life or if you’ve been around children at all, you surely know the six-year-old child is getting more than the college graduate. Asking questions is an important skill that can be learned.

I’m going to give you a number of questions and some of the circumstances under which they can be used. Again, I urge you to adapt these to your situation because all of them will not completely fit you. Nevertheless, in many cases the idea would be appropriate.

Some questions tie in with the assumptive attitude; others have to do with imagination and impending events and any number of other techniques. Example: In the showing of a home you could, after getting acquainted with the family, simply ask, as sales trainer Tom Hopkins suggests you do when you enter the living room, “Where would you place the sofa in this room?” In another room, “Where would you put Johnny’s bed? Would you prefer it against the wall or more in the center of the room?” I remind you there is no way the prospect can get irritated with you at an answer he gives you. Another question: “If this beautiful home had only this gorgeous view or if the tour of the home ended with this magnificent living-den and kitchen, it’s already exciting to see, isn’t it?” Or “If this house had nothing but this location, it would merit consideration, wouldn’t it?”

To set up a closing situation for later in the interview, sometimes you can use this as a lead-in: “Mr. Prospect, many years ago Andrew Carnegie, the man who was responsible for developing forty-three millionaires when millionaires were truly rare, said, ‘Show me a man who can make a decision, act on that decision, and stay with that decision, and I’ll show you a man who will succeed.’ Successful businessmen are almost unanimous in their agreement on this principle, but what’s your personal feeling about this?” Most will agree.

You will use this one when you are talking with a businessperson about an investment in equipment, machinery, or efficiency systems. It would not work if you were selling a young couple some furniture they weren’t sure they could afford.

Sixteen “Question” Closes

  1. Almost identical to a real estate situation, if you’re demonstrating a computer or a piece of equipment, you can ask, “If this were the only feature this machine had, it would be well worth owning, wouldn’t it?”
  2. Question: “When we install this equipment, would you like for me to demonstrate the major features again?”
  3. Question: “Would you prefer we deliver today, or would next week fit your schedule better?”
  4. Question: “Would you like for me to mark this one sold while we check on the most agreeable terms to finance it for you?”
  5. Question: “Do you need to consult with anyone else before you place the order?”
  6. Question: “Is the purchase order issued from this department?”
  7. Question: “Would you like to have your bank finance this, or would you like for us to work out the financial arrangements?”
  8. Question: “Since the item is in short supply, would you be willing to wait three weeks for delivery?”
  9. Question: “Would you want to make a large deposit so the monthly deposits are smaller, or would you prefer a minimum deposit and slightly larger monthly deposits?”
  10. Question: “Would you prefer this in green, or does the red appeal to you more?”
  11. Question: “Shall we ship it by UPS or air express?”
  12. Question: “Do you want the lot registered in your name or your wife’s name?”
  13. Question: “Do you prefer the lot on the golf course, or does the one on the lake appeal to you most?”
  14. Question: “If you saw that it was to your advantage to own this product and the terms we work out are satisfactory, would you have any objections to going ahead today?”
  15. Question: “Can you see the financial advantage to reducing the use of those powerful overhead lights which provide unneeded light in some areas in favor of using point-of-impact lighting during certain times of the day?”
  16. Question: “Do you believe it’s wise to invest in solidly constructed equipment which will give you long, trouble-free operation for the lifetime of the product?”

Questions for Decisions

Many questions really are “thinking” questions and actually lead the prospect to the decision.

Mark Gardner, whom we mentioned earlier, like all professionals, asks a lot of fact-finding and closing questions. Here are a few which are self-explanatory:

Question: “Are you investing in the stock market at the present time?”

Question: “Are you seeking capital gains or income?”

Question: “Could you give me a measure of the degree of risk you wish to take? Are you aggressive or conservative?”

Question: “What does your portfolio consist of?”

1. Biggest winner

2. Largest position

Question: “Please, if you will, give me an example of your last transaction? And when?”

Question: “Usually we are looking for commitments anywhere from  ______ dollars to ______ dollars. How much capital do you normally commit?”

“Mr. Prospect, I would like to make an agreement with you as one businessman to another. First, I’m not going to waste your time. Second, when we come back to you it will be with a major strategic suggestion. For these reasons we want you to give it serious consideration for a major commitment. Now, Mr. Prospect, given all these parameters of the investment, would you be in a position to make a prompt decision?”

This series leads directly to a close:

“Of the stocks you own, do you have any that have not lived up to your expectations? How long have you held the stock? I know I am asking you to make a very difficult decision. Why have you not sold this when it hasn’t performed? Why? Because:

1. There is a loss involved.

2. A common mistake by most investors is that you hope the stock will somehow come back.

“Wouldn’t you agree with this?

“In the real world, not every situation we invest in works out. Isn’t it best that we recognize it hasn’t worked out, for whatever reasons, and make the decision to rectify this situation by moving out of __________ and positioning into __________?”

These Questions Close Sales

The late Charles Roth, describing how a leasing agent for swanky offices in New York City handled the question-assumption approach, gave this example. The salesman would take the prospect to a beautiful view of the Hudson River and ask, “You love this view, don’t you?” The prospect would invariably answer, “Yes, it’s beautiful.” Then the salesman would lead him to a suite on the other side of the building and ask the question, “Do you like this view as well as the other?” The prospect either did or didn’t. Assuming he didn’t, the salesman would say, “Then the other suite is the one you want, isn’t it?” And the sale was often closed.

The “Choice” Close

When I was in the table-appointments business, selling single girls china, flatware, and crystal, one of our most difficult and important tasks was to lead the girl in the selection of the right pattern and yet make certain it was her choice.

We started with china, and since we had seven patterns, we handled it this way: The first pattern we offered was one we knew she would like, a “safe” pattern. Whether she necessarily loved it or not was another matter. After we’d displayed and “romanced” it, we reached for the second pattern and demonstrated it. After showing the second one we asked the girl, “Mary, if these were the only two china patterns in the whole world and you had to make your choice right now as to which one you were going to choose, which one of these two would you choose?”

After she made her choice we put the other pattern away.

We followed this procedure through to the last pattern, and in most cases the final choice was relatively easy. As she chose that final pattern we gave her one more choice as the close: “Mary, would you want this in the five-piece or the seven-piece place settings?” When we got the answer we proceeded to fill out the order.

Years ago, when my friend Mike Ingram was president of Tufts & Son out of Oklahoma City, I laughingly referred to him as “America’s Number One Rat Bait Salesman,” because he was. Mike and his company used a number of ideas to promote rat bait sales, but one of the things they promoted with their dealers was a .22 rifle. Mike had trained his people to close the sale after explaining the promotion with this question: “Did you want the six-case promotion or would you prefer the one with nine cases and get this beautiful .22 rifle as the promotional gift?” By using this promotional procedure, Tufts & Son broke every sales record in history selling—that’s right—rat bait!

Question: “Did you want this single light globe, or would you like three for the 15 percent discount?” In many cases you can move the customer to a larger order by simply asking that or a similar question. The entire questioning process is an involvement procedure, and as Harry Overstreet so eloquently expressed it, “The very essence of all power to influence lies in getting the other person to participate.” Get ’em involved—your chances of the sale dramatically improve.

Question: “If I show you something that could save you or your firm a great deal of money, are you in a position to act on it now?”

Incidentally, one question you don’t ask a prospect is, “What do you think about this?” As I said earlier, the “thinking” brain is only 10 percent as large as the “feeling” brain and people generally do not buy logically. They buy emotionally. They buy what they want and not necessarily

what they need. Ask, “How do you feel about this?” and you’ve got an infinitely better chance to make the sale.

The “Tie Down” Close Revisited

The late Doug Edwards perfected and taught the following technique, which he called the “Tie Down.” He used it with great effectiveness. Frequently a customer will ask a question such as, “Does this come in green?” If you say yes, you still are no closer to the sale. If he asks, “Does this come in green?” you ask him a question: “Do you want it if it comes in green?” When he responds to that question—he’s bought. You nail it down with, “We can have it for you in three weeks, or would you prefer that I put a rush on it so you can have it in just two weeks?”

If he asks you, “Do the draperies come with the house?” you ask, “Do you want it if the draperies come with the house?” Or “Will you take it if I can make arrangements for the draperies to come with the house?” You’re tying him down with that question. Doug would automatically or instinctively end his questions or statements with a tie-down such as: “This is beautiful in red, isn’t it?” “The added weight gives much greater comfort, doesn’t it?” “The extra horsepower is a real bonus, isn’t it?” “This extra economy will steamroll the competition, won’t it?” “The additional color gives it an added dimension, doesn’t it?” “This evening view should give you a lot of beautiful memories, shouldn’t it?” Each tie-down is emotionally committing the prospect to taking action on your offer, and when you wrap your offer in an obligating question, the sale is more probable than possible. (Your next reading of Secrets will make you even more aware of the tie-downs I’ve used throughout the book, won’t it?)

Of special importance in the tie-down procedure is the fact that you should use contractions to emphasize certain points. Sales trainer Phil Lynch said you should avoid the use of not at all costs. Use isn’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t, can’t, couldn’t, doesn’t, won’t, etc. Avoid is not, should not, would not, cannot, could not, does not, will not, etc.

Now you go to work and start developing specific questions for your product and customers. Remember: The professional salesperson works at learning how to be more professional. It is not easy—but the emotional satisfaction and financial rewards are enormous.

The “Permanent Customer” Close

If you sell in a furniture store, a clothing store, or any kind of retail outlet where customers come in and say, “I’d like to see a suit,” you smile and say, “With pleasure; men’s suits are over here.” Start in that direction, take about a half-dozen steps, turn, and say, “It will be helpful if I know whether this suit is for a special occasion, or would you like for it to blend with the rest of your wardrobe so that you can get maximum mileage out of your clothing dollars?”

This approach not only helps you make the immediate sale, but it also plants the suggestion that you are capable of and interested in helping him solve any future wardrobe problems. You are displaying a strong professional approach and a sincere interest in being a problem solver. Your initial question is the opening to the “Permanent Customer” Close.

An almost identical approach is effective in most retail outlets (furniture stores, specialty shops, general merchandisers, etc.). In a furniture store the prospect might come in and express an interest in a lamp, rug, or sofa. You smile and say, “I’ll be pleased to help you; they are right over here.” You start in that direction as you say, “By the way, did you want this as an individual item or did you want it to blend with the rest of your décor so you get maximum mileage from your furniture dollars?” This procedure leads your prospect to make a decision of more significance than just the momentary one of buying the particular item he asked about.

I deal with and use questions in every segment of Secrets of Closing the Sale. There is no doubt in my mind that your career as a salesperson will move forward faster as a direct result of learning how to ask questions and how to use the proper voice inflection than from any other skills you might develop.

Most salespeople know the importance of asking questions, but too many of them make a couple of serious mistakes in the questioning process. First of all, they take the “police investigator” approach and are a little too aggressive and assertive. The salesman’s attitude is critical. He must remember the service attitude is the one to take. He should never ask the first question without getting permission. You get permission this way: “Mr. Prospect, in order for me to determine how we might be able to help you, I need to ask you a few questions. Do you mind if I ask them now?” This procedure not only gets the positive response, but it also tells the prospect why you are going to ask the questions. This clears the way for asking the questions and subconsciously obligates the prospect to answer them.

Zig Ziglar

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Zig Ziglar (1926-2012)  was one of the world’s most popular motivational speakers.  Zig often shared “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want!”  Zig’s Legacy lives on at Ziglar.com

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