One habit that consistently hurts the building of profitable business relationships is talking too much. It is the natural inclination of sales people to speak more than they listen, thinking they can charm people into a sale. But the fact is that sales are only generated when a business is there when the prospect is ready to buy. And asking the right questions will boost sales by developing stronger relationships with your existing customers and bringing in new ones.
Andrew Sobel's new book, Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others describes how to grow relationships and build business by asking better questions. He believes that all relationships are based on having things in common and trusting each other. Andrew writes that “In the business world, (relationships) are based on you having an understanding of the other person’s goals and therefore, an idea about how you can help them.” The easiest way to get this information is to ask the right questions.
In my full interview with Sobel, we discussed 10 powerful questions you should be asking your customers.
1. What are your strategies (or plans) right now? Knowing this will help build a credible relationship and offer the right services and solutions for your customer. It is also advantageous for you to share successful strategies that other customers have used.
2. As you look ahead to the next year in your business, what are you personally most excited about? Sobel says people "light up" when asked this question because they get excited about what the future can hold.
3. Who will make the final decision about the firm you choose to work with? This is critical because you need to know whether the person you are meeting with is the decision-maker. Cutting down on wasteful meetings will boost productivity and eventually sales.
4. What would you say is one of the top three priorities you are grappling with right now in your company? Find out what your potential customer has tried and what initiatives they already have in place.
5. What is the single most important action that will make this business even more successful? This is a good question to ask both of your customers and employees (people on the front line will have a very different--and valuable--perspective).
6. What would you like to cover in our discussion? This question focuses the meeting after you do the initial rapport-building so a lot can be accomplished in a short period of time (and not get sidetracked).
7. What decisions do we need to make today? This will guide every meeting to ensure it meets its intended outcome.
8. Is this the best we can do? Andrew believes this really pushes people. He tells the story of Winston Lord, an aide to Henry Kissinger who submitted a report on which Kissinger immediately wrote “Is this the best you can do?" After resubmitting the report a few times and having it returned by Kissinger with the same comment, Lord finally said, exasperated, "Yes, this is absolutely the best I can do." Kissinger then looked up and said, 'Now, I’ll read it." Sobel suggests, however, to use this tactic sparingly, since it can aggravate customers and employees.
9. Can you tell me more about this situation? Andrew explains that this is typically the opposite of what most people want to say in a crisis situation. They want to lead with “You know, let me kind of explain to you what’s really been going on here because you’re not fully informed." When people are upset, emotions become facts. Sobel suggests that a better question could be “What would you like to see done at this point in time?” rather than imposing a framework that may not be successful.
10. What do you think? For Sobel, these are the four most important words to use in every conversation. Prospects and customers almost never get asked this question. Sobel believes that great leaders lead with questions.
What great questions do you ask to build your relationships and your business?
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