Sales Effectiveness Blog Professional Services Blog

How to Ask the Right Questions in Your Sales Process

by Rachel Clapp Miller /

question_mark_sign.jpgThere is no value without a customer problem. 

That premise is one of the most basic sales principles. As our own John Kaplan would say, “It’s Egypt old.” It’s also the catalyst to selling on value over your product’s features.

Finding a customer problem is the first step to winning the business, and also the part of the sales conversation where many reps struggle. 

Business issues and pains are the underpinnings of a value-based message. When you use your sales conversations to (1) tie solutions to business problems and (2) show your differentiation, you create a captive audience that understands the importance of actively participating in their own rescue. 

Lay the groundwork for a value-based sales conversation with effective discovery and trap-setting questions.

Discovery Questions 

If you can’t identify your customer’s most compelling pain points, you’ll struggle to sell your solutions. Deals are won and lost on effective discovery. If you want to sell on value, you have to ask questions that prompt prospects to verbalize their pain, in a way that gives you an opportunity to articulate the value of your solution.

Asking open-ended discovery questions results in a two-sided conversation. Both, you and the customer learn from the answers. When customers hear themselves admit their problems, it creates buying momentum and gives you leverage to win the deal. Discovery questions create a sense of urgency, helping you move your customer through the buying cycle.

Sellers who excel at helping the customers articulate their needs automatically have better knowledge about their customer. They’re able to better qualify opportunities, while earning that coveted trusted advisor status that creates a successful customer/seller relationship.

Trap-Setting Questions

Discovery questions help you uncover customer needs, but they don’t necessarily provide the opportunity for you to demonstrate your differentiation. If you’re competing with other vendors in your sales cycle (and you most likely are), you won’t win the business without also using effective trap-setting questions as part of your customer conversations.

Trap-setting questions allow you to demonstrate how your solutions are better and different from the competition. They highlight the value that the customer will receive as a result of a differentiator that you have.

Just like discovery questions, trap-setting questions need to be open-ended and two-sided. They need to form a link in the customer’s mind between your differentiators and the ‘customer value’ that they just admitted was important in their discovery process.

In your sales conversations, think about the subject that you want to drive the conversation toward and work backwards. Begin with high-level questions and then use more detailed questions that allow you to use the customer’s answers to demonstrate your value.

At the end of a good round of trap-setting questions, customers should walk away believing that your line of questioning got them thinking about areas of value that they hadn’t yet fully thought about or comprehended. This will lead them to see that your company is tailor-made to address their needs, and that the competition is not. Trap-setting questions draw the pivotal link between value that customers want and the differentiators that your solutions provide.

As a seller, your goal is for customers to persuade themselves that your company is their best option to get to a place they can’t get to on their own. Remember, people rarely argue with their own conclusions. Effective discovery and trap-setting questions will allow you to help the customer see the value in doing business with you. When used effectively, you won’t be selling at all … you’ll be consulting. The customers will sell themselves.


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