Key Learning Outcomes

  • Differentiate between speaking to and asking questions of your customers.
  • Recognise the benefits of asking the right questions when dealing with your customers.
  • Compare the outcome of closed questions and open questions.
  • Understand the value of pre-framing when selling your business’s products and services.


The author of several sales books, Tom Freese, once said: “The questions you ask are more important than the things you could ever say.”

From our experience the most successful salespeople are not those with the gift of the gab or those that aggressively try to get the deal done. The most successful are those that have mastered the art of asking the right questions. They spend most of the time listening to what the customer wants and then skillfully devise a solution for them. It is important to remember that when someone buys something, they are buying for their reasons not yours.[wlm_ismember]

Benefits of a questions-based sales process

1. Builds rapport

In the early stages of any sale process it is important to build up rapport. We know that people are more likely to be influenced by someone that they like, and one of the ways that we can increase this is by finding some common ground. Read the learning article “Six Principles of Influence” to fine tune your skills in this area. The most important thing is to be genuine in this process; no one is influenced by or likes someone who is fake.

2. Ascertains motivation

One of the keys to sales success is the ability to provide a solution for your potential customers. For most salespeople the problem is that they do not take the time to understand the need or motivation, and are therefore left reeling off features and benefits hoping that one of them will strike a chord with the potential buyer. Asking quality questions allows you to sell by a strategy and allows you to quite simply sell the client what they actually need rather than what we think they want.

3. Saves time and stress

There is nothing more stressful for a salesperson than being left in limbo. Too often we see salespeople who have delivered what they think is a good sales presentation but are unable to get a commitment from the buyer. Their worse fears are recognised when ultimately the potential customer contacts them to say that they have not won the business. The salesperson will often look for an excuse, such as the competitor offered a lower price, but ultimately the reason is because the other salesperson understood or met their needs more effectively. A questions-based process will allow you to identify and understand the buyer’s needs and then allow you to provide the best possible solution.

4. Earns you the right to close the deal

By asking the right questions you will have covered off all of the aspects that were important to the buyer, and therefore you should be in a position at the end of the presentation to ask a closing question. By being thorough and strategic you will be in a position where the potential buyer will need to tell you about any objections or doubts before you finish the presentation.

5. Eliminates waffle

By their nature salespeople tend to like to talk and they do not feel comfortable with silence. Too often a salesperson will talk themselves OUT of a sale by saying too much or by going off on a tangent in an effort to fill the silence. By using a questions-based sales process the salesperson is forced to listen as the client talks, and by selling to a strategy there is less opportunity to stray from the plan.

What are good questions?

Good questions are ones that allow your potential customer to open up and tell you what they want or need. In the early stages of the sales process we want to try and ask open questions, that is questions that cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no”. You want to use more closed questions when you are looking to confirm information or to close the deal.

Open-ended questions usually will start with “what”, “where”, “why”, “how”, “who” or something like “tell me”. The idea is to get the person to open up, so avoid questions that start, for example, with “do”, “is”, “would”, “could”, “should” or “can”.


A good thing to do when you want someone to open up but you are in the early stages of the rapport-building is to pre-frame your question. For example, you may try something like “so I can give you the best advice possible would you mind telling me a little more about your situation?” You have pre-framed the question with a reason for asking it. The person is then more likely to open up as they want you to be able to give them the best advice possible.

Does it work for smaller sales?

The technique works well whether you are selling a car, house, dress, pair of shoes or dessert after a meal. The key is always to try and ascertain your potential buyer’s needs and wants.

For example, if someone is looking in a clothing shop, most sales assistants will ask, “can I help you?” The answer is usually “no thank you, I am just browsing”. This leaves the salesperson with nothing to go on and really nowhere further to go in the sales process. Starting to suggest items will just annoy the customer if it is not what they are looking for. A better question might be, “we do have a lot of new stock that has just arrived and I would love to be able to point it out to you. What type of occasion are you looking for?” Now you might still get the answer “nothing really, just browsing” but more likely the person will give you a little more information. For example, “I will be going away in a couple of weeks and was just thinking I could do with a couple of extra dresses.” The salesperson is now able to ask where the person is going to, allowing for some rapport-building. Additionally, they now know that the person is looking for dresses which means they can be more targeted in their suggestions or ask some further questions, such as “what type of thing are you looking for?”

Use this along with our other articles in this section of the website so your team will learn to ask better questions. We guarantee if they can start really understanding the needs and motivation of your potential customers, sales will increase substantially.[/wlm_ismember]

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