Good Questions Uncover Client Related Problems

In his book SPIN Selling, Neil Rackham discovered that sellers are fearful of asking problem questions while buyers welcome them. Buyers report that professionals, who ask problem questions seem to understand the business, seem to talk about valuable things and are more interesting.

There is a major difference between good questions and questions. Many sales experts advise you to ask “open-ended” questions. That is good advice, so long as the question is related to a problem. To encourage prospects to tell you their problems, you may have to design powerful questions that demonstrate you are a person worthy of the answers.

First, design good dialog questions. Have you watched Barbara Walters interview a person? She uses dialog questions to show knowledge, empathy and sincerity and to encourage the interviewee to tell intimate things he may have never told anyone before. Asking good dialog questions is easy once you have the framework down.

A dialog questions contains three parts: 1) An observation 2) a contrast or comparison and 3) a request for an opinion. Here is an example: “Mr. Jones, I noticed that you have 15 people in your accounting department (Observation). We have other clients in your business and similar in size to you who only have 8 to 10 people working in accounting (Comparison). In what ways do you find the additional people to be helpful? (Opinion)”

Watch good interviewers on television. The best have done their homework and have solid dialog questions.

Dialog questions that confirm or eliminate problems are good questions for discovering problems. For example, “Mr. Jones, I was reading an article in Manufacturing Today magazine about the companies that are moving their production to other countries. When we came in this morning, we noticed you were adding on to your facility. How are you successfully fighting the trend toward moving production off-shore?”

Most smart sellers develop a list of tried-and-true questions. You can do this too. By having a list of 20 problem-dialog questions, you will be able to stimulate hours of helpful conversation with a prospect. By asking good questions, your prospect will begin to trust and respect you.

By preparing your questions in advance, you will make certain the questions are the most effective you can make them. While your presentation can appear spontaneous, interjecting the right questions will guide you through the problem phase of selling. Here is a method to develop your list of 20 questions:

First, brainstorm all the questions you might ask. Write questions both in and outside your area of expertise. Get as many down on paper as possible, perhaps three times the number you end up with.

Second, refine your questions so you will demonstrate and engender trust. Avoid questions that intimidate or imply blame. Remember, problem questions will always have one, or a similar, of the following words in it: problem, crises, trouble, puzzle, difficulty, irritant or quandary.

Third, develop a sequence by asking the most general questions first and moving to the more specific. Remember the final question you ask will be a closed-end question, with the answer “Yes”.

Fourth, rehearse your questions with another person. Make sure you are comfortable with the phrasing. You must ask about the problems, without sounding like a know-it-all or making the prospect seem like an idiot. This takes skill. Also, the repetition will help you remember your wording and your order.

Lastly, before asking a series of questions, get permission from your prospect to ask some questions. Do your best to make the questions conversational. Try not to back the prospect in a corner or belittle the person. Remember, the skill of asking questions at this phase of selling is quite different from the skills you might use in a courtroom.


An innovator of dynamic marketing systems, Troy Waugh has more than 30 years of experience in marketing professional services. In 1991, he founded Waugh&CO to serve the accounting profession.

Troy draws on his experience as the National Sales Manager for a major investment firm, the CEO of a publishing company and a manager with Price Waterhouse. Recognized as an industry leader, Troy has impacted clients around the world with his dynamic programs.

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