The one question never to ask
The One Question You Should NEVER Ask…And What You Should Ask Instead
By Jack Dunigan
It’s a conditioned response. A customer walks in (or calls on the phone) and you ask, “How can I help you?”
How they respond is every bit as conditioned. “Thanks, I’m just looking.”
Precious minutes have been spent and nothing gained.
In my first article and video in this series on Super Selling, the point made was to engage the customer, to never ignore them, to never make them chase you. Well, in the above illustration, we have contacted the customer but not engaged them.
There was a contact but not a connection. Super sellers connect with their customers. They find ways to politely and respectfully determine what the customer wants. It comes down to your philosophy of selling.
I was in the market for a new car and visited a dealer whose TV ads were everywhere. He was, to say the least, annoying, but I thought he was just getting his market’s attention. So we stopped in. I had no sooner walked through the dealership door when a young man descended like a duck on a June bug. He immediately began to pressure me about the inadequacies of my present car (I guess he thought I didn’t know that since I was there to replace it…sigh).
In particular, he hammered on the manufacturer’s warranty, long since expired. I knew that and really did not care. A long manufacturer’s warranty was not on my list of must haves for a new car.
But he did not know that…and did not bother to find out. He contacted me but never once connected because all he did was talk. On the rare occasion when I could get a word in, he paid no attention.
What did he do wrong?
He never once found out the trigger that got me to look for a new car, to look for a new car at his dealership, or to respond to him positively. He chose a high-pressured approach that drove me away.
Ineffective salespeople try to sell something. Effective salespeople never try to sell anything. Instead, they do all they can to help the customer buy what is right for them, to solve the customer’s problem.
Like the all-too-common “How can I help you,” his approach assumed too much. He made contact but not a connection. He had a sales pitch that could not possibly resonate with me as a potential buyer.
So what do you ask? How do you approach a customer so as to make a connection?
At Lowe’s. a major big box home improvement store here in the US, they teach their salespeople to ask “What project are you working on?” Since that store sells products and services for the home, it is a logical beginning. It is working so well that they’ve expanded the idea to their significant television ad campaign with the slogan “Every project has a starting point, and Lowe’s hopes you start your projects there.”
The idea of an opening question is to help the customer tell you what their problem is so you can solve it, what their question is so you can answer it, or what their desire is so you can fulfill it.
So my challenge to you is to find a different way to connect than the instinctive “How can I help you?”
Here’s what I suggest. Take 10 minutes and write out several possible opening questions or comments that are specific to your industry or profession. Then, send me two of them so I can share them with others. You can either leave a comment to this post or send an email to Jack@ThePracticalLeader.com.
Do not read the balance of this article until you’ve worked on your opening.
Now, the idea of an opening question is by no means limited to sales. Every effective leader knows the power of effective questions. My colleague Bob Tiede has written some very useful articles on this. You can check him out at https://leadingwithquestions.com/
And then there is Pete Williams at preneurmarketing.com. Pete wrote a really good article on this subject which you can read here. In that article, Pete listed 25 possible questions that effective salespeople can use . The list, reprinted with his permission is below. Some of them might not fit your context, but many will.
- What brings you in today?
- What kind of project are you working on right now?
- What’s more important to you (‘A’ benefit) or (‘B’ benefit)?
- Are you looking for (shoes) or (socks) today?
- Do you prefer (blue) or (yellow)?
- What are you trying to get (this devices/tool) to do?
- For whom are you buying this (gift/present/item)?
- Are you the only one who will use this (item)?
- Will you be using this (item) at home or in the car?
- What features are most important to you?
- What are your priorities?
- Are you looking more for savings or durability?
- Are you planning to do some travelling?
- Do you need a backup?
- How’d you hear about us?
- Is this your first visit?
- Are you just starting out (with this product/service)?
- Have you used one of these (items) before?
- What are your concerns?
- What alternatives have you looked at?
- What is your desired outcome?
- How long do you plan to use this (item)/
- Have you been using (competing product/service)?
- Are you familiar with this (technology/service)?
- Are you happy with your current provider?
Remember that you cannot sell to anyone if you do not connect with everyone so never make that customer chase you. And you must make a connection not just a contact.