Great questions … (and when to ask them)

In working with thousands of sales professionals in hundreds of organizations through the years, our message to each of them has been simple, “You’re a consultant, so behave like one.” That means asking the right questions—then asking more questions—until you fully understand your buyer’s needs in achieving their desired outcome.

A recently published Sandler white paper provides a list of 100 great questions to ask a prospect when you want to take charge and maintain control of just about any sales interview. Since we are in “the dog days of summer” and we don’t want you to work that hard, here are just a few to get your creative juices flowing:

Establishing trust and building rapport: “Thanks for inviting me over today. Since we spoke on the phone, has anything changed?”

To get the conversation started: “Most of our time is spent helping businesses like yours. How are you dealing with (this problem/situation) now?”

To further the conversation: “If you were to pick just one, or two, key things, that you didn’t like about your current solution or provider, what would they be? What thought have you given to implementing a different solution?”

Understanding the prospect’s pain: “How serious would you say the problem is right now, today? What do you think this issue has cost the business over, say, the last (month/six months/year/two years)?”

Understanding the prospect’s budget: “I don’t suppose you’ve given any thought to what it might take, in terms of investment, to get this situation rectified, have you?”

Understanding all the players involved: “When a company such as yours usually invests in this kind of solution, for this kind of money, involving this sort of issue, with this many people, who else is involved and who has the final say?”

When you’re trying to understand delivery or timing: “When would you like to see or feel the benefits of implementing a new solution to this problem? What is more important; cost or speed?”

To ask before presenting your solution: “Considering all the things we have discussed so far, what am I missing? What have we left out?”

When presenting your solution or proposal: “Before I show you our proposal, let’s take a few moments to recap everything that you said so far, is that fair? How would you feel if I could show you a perfect solution for this problem today?”

If the buyer wants to “think it over”: “OK, that makes sense. I think I’d be saying the same to you about now. What should we do next so that I properly understand if I should just close the file and move on?”

When the buyer says “yes”: “What do you imagine your bosses might say when you tell them that you have recommended us for the project?”

When asking for a referral after the “yes”: Assuming that things go well and you give us the order, what would be the best way for me to ask you for a referral at the end of all of this?”

When you think it’s a “no”: “I’m getting the impression that you’re going to either choose another supplier or do nothing at this time, but no hard feelings. What is the one thing you were hoping to see that we couldn’t do for you?”

When you sense they are shopping your price/expertise: “Are you looking for the cheapest price, or the cheapest cost, to get the problem fixed?”

Of course, there are dozens of questions you could ask a prospect in determining if this represents a qualified prospect for you; the above list only scratches the surface. The key is to remain naturally inquisitive throughout the process and continue to probe and ask more questions in the interest of gaining a full understanding of the customer’s issues and concerns.

If you would like a copy of the white paper containing the complete list, feel free to call or email me at the address below. 

Jim Marshall is owner, and president, of Sandler Training of Tampa Bay, which provides sales, corporate and management training to high-achieving companies and individuals. Contact him at 813.287.1500 or

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