Since forever, salespeople have been told, occasionally taught, and less frequently trained to use good questions. Despite this universal advice, most salespeople fail to ask powerful questions because they don’t have them. When sales managers talk about sales questions, they suggest more open-ended questions and fewer closed-ended questions. While that’s better than nothing, there are other, more powerful types of questions.
Questions can help you to differentiate yourself as a salesperson while also creating value for your prospective clients. The best questions are mostly strategic, not all your questions need to hit hard. Let’s look at six types of questions you need in B2B sales.
Permission-based questions are exactly what they sound like. You ask for permission to do something. You must ask these questions politely and without losing your authority. By asking these questions, your contact feels they have control over the sales conversation, putting them at ease.
After asking several permission-based questions, you can stop asking for permission and start making recommendations about what the client should do next. Because you have asked for permission and the conversation is going well, you have an easier time.
Here is an example of a permission-based question: “Would it be okay if I share with you our Q3 executive briefing and ask you to give your perspective?” That’s really two questions, but I find it works.
The reason you ask open-ended questions is so your contact can talk. These questions have the contact start sharing their thoughts, beliefs, goals, wants, and needs. These questions ensure you get the information you need to understand how best to help your contacts.
Here is an example of an open-ended question: “What do you think the right solution needs to look like?”
Sometimes your contact needs to talk, but because your time is short, but remember that open-ended questions will likely take up more time, so choose them carefully to ensure you get through everything you need in the conversation.
These questions are important, and they can help you learn things that will be valuable. In SPIN Selling, Rackham describes some of these as “situation” questions, which deal mostly with facts you need to acquire. Some powerful questions have a single-word answer, like “yes” or “no.”
Closed-ended questions are great for asking about data. For example, “What is your average win rate across your sales force?” quickly and directly gets to the point and helps you learn what you need.
Here is another example of a closed-ended question: What metrics do you use to measure the cost of this problem?
Few salespeople ask values-based questions, but they are incredibly powerful when done well. You can use these questions to elicit your contact’s beliefs and priorities. You will do better in sales by understanding your contacts and what they value. There is a limit to the number of these questions you can ask, even if there is no number you can use. You must feel it.
Here is a sample of a values-based question: “Where does this sit on the stack of your priorities?”
Here is another: “How do you believe your team will feel about this initiative, and what will we need to do to help them work with us?”
Root Cause Questions
I don’t know how to help you with these valuable questions. There are questions to ask to ensure you have identified the root cause of the client’s challenges. Sometimes, the root cause stems from the client’s external environment. But often, the root cause is something the client is doing, something they will need to change to improve their results.
In staffing, I could displace a competitor and fail to get the client the results they needed. Over time, I discovered that the client’s pay rate was too low, the shifts were undesirable, and the culture was toxic. Some of my clients were just cheap and deserved their problems. Over time, I started asking questions and walking away from anyone that was likely to become a nightmare client.
You will have to discover these questions by exploring what the client is doing and identifying what they must change to succeed.
Paradigm Shift Questions
I love these types of questions because they are necessary for helping your clients break from the past. They also expose conflicts.
These questions sound like this: “What concessions are you making by choosing a solution that is designed to be the lowest price?” Once you ask that, they wonder what concessions they made without knowing it. If they are having problems, you just ask them why.
Here is another paradigm shift question: “In the past six months, have you started any initiatives around [key result], and have you started conversations about what changes you might need to pursue over the next twelve months? If you haven’t, can I share a couple of things we see working?”
The Major Change in Discovery
One of the major changes we face as we leave the legacy sales approaches and adopt a modern sales approach is that we are not only asking questions to acquire information, but we are also asking questions that help our contacts discover what they need to know through our conversation and questions.
One reason salespeople fail to secure a second meeting, and why prospective buyers ghost salespeople after agreeing to meet again, is that the sales conversation doesn’t teach the client anything that enables them to decide to change. Salespeople who have learned to be One-Up and truly consultative have little trouble commanding a second meeting.
The Range of Questions You Need in B2B Sales
The sales experience includes the questions you ask and the value they create for your contacts. Weak questions about problems and pain points should be replaced with questions that hit harder and help your contacts gain a greater understanding of their problems and what changes they will need to make to generate the outcomes they need.
Leaving this post, list the questions you use in discovery, listing them under these six categories. If you have no questions in the six types of questions here, write down questions that will help you do better discovery and win more deals. Do good work, and if you need help, go here.