Effective questioning reveals buying attitudes, clarifies details, and motivates prospects to engage more deeply in the conversation. Before that sales stage begins, though, you’ve got to find likely prospects.
In the prospecting stage, questions are one of the most effective means to find the people and companies who are most likely to be good business targets. But if your queries don’t drill down far enough, if your probes are just skimming the surface, your prospecting pipeline gets clogged with time-wasters and wild goose chases instead of real sales opportunities.
And when your pipeline is filled with clunkers, you waste more time chasing these people again and again – to no avail. It’s a frustrating pattern that can happen to anyone if they’re not careful.
Consider this halfhearted exchange:
Producer I’m following up regarding the January insurance renewals…
Prospect We won’t be reviewing this year.
Producer Have you compared in recent years?
Prospect Yeah. We did that two years ago.
Producer OK. Maybe we’ll have the opportunity to work with you next year then.
Prospect OK, fine.
Producer Thank you. Ends call.
This producer is getting nowhere fast. He stopped probing when he should have been finding out more about the target company and determining if they are a prospect or not. The reason his inquiries petered out so quickly was that his fear of failure took over and stopped his curiosity from driving him forward.
The situation is thick with irony. If you don’t probe because you’re afraid that asking too many questions will annoy the suspect, you’re no better off than you would be if that impatient suspect hangs up on you.
So you hang back, and think that you’re being productive because you’ve gotten three X-date leads out of the session. But you’ve got to ask, “Are these really leads, or am I just kidding myself?”
Just to be clear, sometimes people may be impatient and may want to end the call before you’ve had the chance to ask all the questions you’d like. The line between assertive inquiry and annoying someone can be thin and you never know when someone will want to end the call. But if you’re genuine and considerate the other person will almost always understand.
Prospecting is a contact sport. You can’t do it effectively unless you lean in, dig down, and ask lots of questions. Then you’ll be able to learn enough to tell the prospects from the suspects.
And what about those 3-year-olds? What can they teach us about assertive inquiry?
Questions come easy to 3-year-olds because there’s no social anxiety getting in the way of being their authentic selves. That’s harder for adults, but you can treat fear as an inspiration instead of a roadblock, and let yourself engage further rather than pulling back.
Here’s the wonderfully authentic Louis C.K. talking about his young daughter’s unending curiosity. He does curse a little here so don’t watch the video if your propriety trumps your curiosity.