Every time the fax machine would go off, practically the entire sales department would jump up to see who it was for…

This was when I was working for the IT training company.

I got my start there in marketing.  But then I maxed out my income potential in marketing, because the owner of the company wasn’t a direct marketer.

So the president (still a good friend and mentor, and regular Breakthrough Marketing Secrets reader) recommended I switch to sales.  At least there, he could pay me a commission.  And I could still use my marketing skills for lead generation and during the sales process.  Which I was doing…

Which brings me back the fax machine.

Even though this was 2009 or so, we still got a lot of orders by Fax.  Corporate accounts would send in their big purchase orders over fax.

And since purchasing was disconnected from our actual contacts within the companies, we often didn’t know exactly when an order would come in.

The faxes could be for anybody.  But many were for me.

“Dang it Roy, you sold another server!”

After a couple of months in sales, that was a common refrain.  The “server” was a computer server loaded with our training.  And it was by far our most expensive product.

At $30,000 a pop, it made for a great commission check.  And after moving to sales, I quickly started selling them more consistently than anybody else.

Now, I’ll admit, I had a secret weapon.

I created my lead flow.

I created a system where prospects for our highest-end training solutions would actually come to me to have a training consultation.  To discuss what the best solution was for their company.

And what I did with them next was my secret to closing these sales consistently and at a higher rate than anybody else.

I got these prospects to tell me why they should buy…

This is the secret to consultative selling.

Unless you’re in a one-and-done sales situation where you have to close a cold prospect immediately or lose them, this is what you need to know.

(And yes, I’ve been there, too.  I sold newspaper subscriptions from kiosks inside local grocery stores.  And frankly, the lesson you’re about to get was the most effective there, too — but I was also most successful when I applied it with a bit of pressure.)

If you’re selling higher-end products or services…

If you’re dealing with prospects where you’re going to have an extended sales conversation, probably involving follow-up…

And especially if there’s anything complex about your offer or the buying process…

You have to get really good at what I’m about to tell you.

When I was cranking out all those $30,000 server sales, this is exactly what I was doing…

The prospect would request a training consultation with me, to discuss their training needs and our training solutions.

And then, I’d ask questions.

Lots and lots of questions.

I wouldn’t even try to sell them.

Sometimes I’d try to sell them on other options, including a smaller solution from us, or even a competitor’s product.

But mostly, I’d ask questions.

By the end of the consultation, they’d believe that I had their best interests at heart.  (And that was true.)

They’d believe I truly wanted to figure out if our solutions were a fit for their needs.

They’d believe that if I gave them an option and told them it was the best fit, that it was the best fit.

And for every qualified prospect, that would mean our product would be moved into their purchasing process.

Sometimes there was a bunch of follow-ups afterward.  Sometimes there was a change of heart.  Sometimes they’d want the product but bureaucracy would decide otherwise.

But after my consultation — and those questions — we established whether or not what I had and what they wanted were the same thing.  And if they were moving forward, we made sure they had everything they needed to do so.

And it all came down to the #1 sales skill: asking questions.

If you’re good at asking sales-related questions, you will succeed at selling.  Even if you haven’t memorized 100 closes.  Even if you’re not naturally extroverted or charismatic or interesting.  Even if you think you’re not a salesperson.

If you can be genuinely interested in your prospect and ask them a lot of good questions that eventually relate to your offer, you can sell.

Here are 9 recommendations to mastering selling through asking questions…

  1. Make it about them…

People love to talk about themselves.  They love to tell their same old stories to a new audience.  They love to reveal themselves to someone who actually listens.

Most people never feel heard, so if you actually ask questions and show them genuine interest, they will often find themselves telling you things they struggle to reveal to close friends.

But the key here is to make them the focus of the conversation (without it feeling like an interrogation).  Shine the spotlight on them.  Make them look good.  Make them feel good, and feel smart.  Give them respect.

This is more of an attitude than an action.  When you adopt it, everything that follows will be more effective.

  1. Ask open-ended questions…

Compare these two questions: “Are you looking at buying this training today?” and “What has you looking at training today?”  (Insert whatever product you want for training.)

The first question has two answers: yes, or no.  The second question cannot be answered with a single word.  It requires a more in-depth answer.

Get good at coming up with questions that are similarly open.  Get good at asking questions that can’t be answered with a short answer.

  1. LISTEN!

This is more important than any other step.

If you’re not listening to their answers, they’ll stop answering your questions.

And here I’m talking about real listening.  Active listening.  Listening where you’re not trying to interject with your next thought.  Instead, listening where you’re taking in what they’re saying and asking relevant follow-up questions.

Once you ask a question, shut up and let them answer.  I often, after a long-winded question, will literally say, “And now I’m going to shut up and let you answer.”  It gets a little laugh, but it also says to the person I’m speaking with that I can yield the floor and will open up my ears.

  1. Acknowledge, accept, and approve…

Once you start listening, you will hear things that aren’t right or that you disagree with.  The worst thing you can do is to disagree with them, counter them, or reject what they’re saying.

You MUST acknowledge what they say.  Accept it as their truth or most accurate view of the situation.  And approve it as the right thought, feeling, or belief from their perspective.

You are validating their perspective.  And there’s no way you’re going to channel that perspective toward your product or service (whether it’s right-on or has to change) if you don’t first acknowledge, accept, and approve of it.

You may gently have to nudge their truth into another direction.  Such as, “I totally get that and see where you’re coming from, and have you seen…”  Or, “That’s a really good point, and I think this is also worth looking at…”  And so on.  Agree and only make gentle turns in the conversation.

  1. Assume the person you’re asking is intelligent…

If you assume the person is stupid, you’re going to fail on the above.  They’ll get it.  They’ll feel bad.  And you’ll lose the sale.

Even if they’d score negative on an IQ test, you have to treat them like they’re bringing their best to your conversation.

Their current thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are their best interpretation of their total life experience.

Maybe all the media they’ve followed is wrong.  Maybe the culture they grew up surrounded by has glaring dogma or bias or inaccurate views about the world.  Maybe they just didn’t get the whole story on something.

Assume that even if they disagree, they’ve put their best thinking into every answer.  Your job in listening and asking more questions is to understand that thinking.

  1. When all else fails, ask for more details…

Sometimes you’re not quite sure what to ask next.  Or the answers you get are coming up a little short.

In those cases, say something like, “I don’t know if I fully understand what you’re saying.  Can you explain in more detail?”

Or if they tell you what they feel about something, ask them what they think about it.  If they say what they think, ask them, “And how does that make you feel?”

“And then what happened?” is another good one.

There are a thousand ways to ask for more details in response to something that was just said.  Use them.

  1. Let them lead, but you choose the destination…

This is really important.  If the person you’re speaking with believes that you’re pushing the conversation in a specific direction, they will start shortening all their answers and telling you less.

It’s because this behavior tells them you’re not actually interested in them, you’re interested in what you want to get out of the situation.

If you’re in a selling situation, you know why you’re there, and they do, too.

You will need to come back to the destination of actually presenting your offer before the end of the conversation.  And at some point, you’ll probably have to make sure you talk about your product or service.

These are the destinations of the conversation.

But for a large portion of the conversation, let them lead.  Ask them relevant questions, sure.  Yet when they say interesting things that might not be headed in the exact direction you expected, let them take that path.  Acknowledge, accept, and approve of it.  Ask a few follow-up questions, because it’s clearly something they want to talk about and they feel is relevant.

  1. Dig to find a problem-solution fit…

Eventually, you do need to make sure you’re covering the important selling points.  Which almost always involves a problem (sometimes in the form of an unfulfilled need or desire) that your product or service provides a solution to.

But it’s not enough to sell your prospect on your version of their problem.  You’re much better off figuring out how they see their problem, in all its glorious and painful detail.  How their life experience is agitated because of the problem.  What solutions they’ve considered or researched, and why they haven’t bought them yet.  And even why they’re even talking to you about your solution.

If you get all the way through that — Problem, Agitation, Invalidation of alternative solutions, you Solution — you’re about ready to ask for the sale.  After recapping that you were listening and understanding their comments.

But first, make sure there are no sticking points.

  1. Ask your way THROUGH objections…

One of the worst ways to deal with a negative emotion is to pretend like it’s not there.  If you feel a bunch of anxiety and try to hide it, you’ll only feel more anxious.  You’re much better off acknowledging it, feeling it, and moving through it.

The same goes for objections.

“So, what’s still holding you back right now?  Why haven’t you moved forward yet?”

Let them answer, LISTEN, and acknowledge it.

Then, you don’t even need to respond.  You don’t need to tell them how to think.

Instead, get them to tell you even more objections.

“And what else? …  [pause] …”

And you can keep asking what else.

You might even take notes.  Let them lay out all the reasons for not moving forward yet.

Usually, in acknowledging it, and letting them express it, and not immediately rejecting it, they’ll be feeling pretty good about you.

Show them you understand.  (See the points above.)

Then, you can ask THEM what it’s going to take to move through those objections.  They might have a few more questions.  They might need to go do something.  They might need your help getting buy-in from a partner, or dealing with their purchasing process.

Help them experience and then work through the objections.  Validate that they were useful to address.  And do everything you can to either deal with the objection for them right away or create a plan for how you can help.

Final thoughts…

All of the above may seem complex and difficult.  Don’t get lost in the details.  Instead, take it in and really understand the important principle: asking questions is the #1 sales skill.

Work to get better at it as you go, with every sales conversation.

And with intention, you WILL get better, and get better sales results.

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

PS: Tomorrow I’ll share a sales posturing secret that takes all of this to another level.