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August 31, 2011 / Steve Hennigs

B2B sales, you had better learn to ask good questions!


Business to business sales is a tough world, there are no two ways about it.  That being said just because something is tough that does not mean a person cannot be very successful in this profession.  One way to set yourself apart from your competition is by asking good questions early on in the sales process.  Asking good questions early on will benefit you in the following ways:

  1. You will build credibility with your prospect because good questions demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about their industry.
  2. You can gain key insights into the needs of your prospect that will help you shape your ultimate offer to how your services will benefit them the most.
  3. You can identify where your contact or contacts fit in the decision-making process.  Are they the final say, can the influence the decision in your favor, or do they not factor into the final decision at all?  This knowledge can make for a much simpler and more professional sales process.

When I say early in the process I am referring to any point prior to you formally presenting or demonstrating your product or service.  This could be meeting a prospect at a networking event, talking with them by phone prior to a formal presentation, or meeting with them in person.  While it will not hurt to ask good questions at any point in the sales process you will get the full benefits if you can do so early.

So, how do you ask good questions?

Know your Product/Service offering front to back

The first step to being able to ask good questions is to know everything there is to know about your particular offering and how it can benefit your target industry.  Take the time to research your offering and do not be afraid to be creative when coming up with ways your target industry can benefit.

Actually know your industry

This will benefit you beyond just being able to ask good questions.  Read industry publications, subscribe to the blogs of industry experts and keep up with them by means of social networking, attend industry events, and sponsor industry organizations.  In essence find out as much as you possibly can about your target industry.  This knowledge can help you with the previous section “Know your Product/Service offering front to back” as well.

Determine what information you need to know to effectively sell

As with most tasks it is important to determine what the end results should be before constructing the means to that end.  By determining what information is essential to your sales process you can effectively determine the questions you want to ask.

Write your questions down and practice

Practice makes  perfect so at least in the beginning be sure to write down your questions and practice your delivery.  It does not hurt to do role-playing with a colleague to get a feel for how a real conversation might go.  It cannot feel like an interview to your prospect rather it must seem as though you are asking questions within the flow of the conversation.

Try it in a sales scenario, evaluate, and improve

All processes take time to perfect so you may not get this down the first time, that’s ok.  The only real mistake is not learning from your mistakes.  If you can record your conversation that is idea but many situation will not allow you to do so.  A good alternative is to have a colleague join you on a sales call and the two of you can discuss how to improve together.

Over time you will be able to refine not only the questions you ask but the manner in which you ask them.  The more quality information you can get early in the sales process the better you can position your offering.  This will lead to the ultimate goal of closing more business.

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