Digging Deep to Find the Gold – The Art of Asking Quality Questions in a Sales Call

ID-10040951 (2)I once read of an expedition to find hidden treasures in the Middle East. Rumour had it that wealth beyond compare had been buried in caves by ancient people who had been trying to escape war-mongering looters.

The surveys carried out had revealed there were indeed treasures to be found beneath the surface of the ground in the caves that had been the subject of their investigations.

Sure enough, just days into the search, many treasures were unearthed and the team were ecstatic at their findings. Gold, jewels and silver were taken away, examined, dated, valued and put on display at various museums. The findings were seen as a treasure trove  from the past.

Years later, other excavators decided to re-examine the caves. This particular team felt that not all the treasure had been uncovered. They felt there may well have been more hidden deeper in the caves, and that the original teams had stopped digging too early when they found the treasures.

Sure enough, after digging only a relatively few feet further down, this new team uncovered more valuable treasures, valued even more than the original find.

If the first team had only continued digging, they would also have found these buried treasures. They were literally just a few feet from finding even more value than they had originally uncovered.

When I read this, it reminded me that the best salespeople are able to uncover and find out much valuable information about a prospect if only they were to dig deeper. We can do this by recognising that the quality of our questions will determine the quality of the information we obtain.

We can catagorise questions into three levels: Surface, shallow and deep.

If we seek for something at the surface, it won’t reveal much of what is hidden. Similarly, surface questions won’t uncover much detail.

Surface questions could include, for example, “How is business?” “Judging by the photos on your desk, I see you have two children, yes?” “How many salespeople do you have at the moment? “What kind of products sell best for you?”

You may need to start of with ‘surface’ enquiries, but they don’t reveal very much about the business or the way the person makes decisions. We need to dive a little deeper.

Shallow questions build on the information you have uncovered. They could include, for example, “How do today’s figures compare with last year’s?” “What further inroads into this market could you make if you were able to?” “How has the improving economy affected the way you market your products?”

These are slightly deeper questions and obtain more information. They could uncover more treasures as the prospect reveals more about their business and future plans. These ‘shallow’ level questions reveal whether you are able to assist the prospect in a more meaningful way.

These type of questions open the way to the level of questioning that reveals the real treasures…the depth of which will help you to present solutions that create opportunities for the prospect that maybe they hadn’t seen before. ‘Deep’ questions uncover information and build on previous data that may well take the discovery journey on a different path or deeper purposes.

Examples might include, “So with the increase in business you’ve seen in the last few months, what changes to your current business practices will help support the further growth you are expecting?”

“If the current trend continues, how do you see the departmental structure and set-up in the next few months?”

“ Could you describe the criteria you will be using to choose your future business partner, so you are certain that relationship will bring the desired results you have described?”

You’ll notice these questions dig deeper to get the prospect to open up about the future operations and allow you to formulate plans that will assist in their business development.

You then have the chance to build your future partnership with the prospect instead of it becoming a transactional-type relationship, built on shallow foundations with surface or shallow information.

So, think through in your call-preparation what information would help you get the most information possible from the prospect. Imagine you only had time to ask three questions. What would those questions be to get the best and most useful information possible? Those would then be the ‘deep’ questions that you could ask during the conversation.

Treasure could be buried deep in the ground, and it could take time and effort to uncover it. When you do, you may discover opportunities that wouldn’t have been available previously.

Happy Selling!

Sean McPheat
Managing Director
MTD Sales Training
(Image by Photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Does Your Prospect Have Quality Reasons To Meet With You?

We’ve often asked salespeople why the client or prospect should actually agree to meet with them. Their answers range from ‘Our product is best for them’ to ‘Our solution will solve their problems’.

These and other statements may actually be true; however, if the prospect doesn’t see a valid reason for meeting with you, expect objections and stalls. It’s not what you think that matters; it’s what the prospect thinks.

That’s why it’s so important to have quality reasons for establishing enough trust for the prospect to say yes when you request a meeting. And those reasons MUST make sense to them, not you.

These are the questions to ask yourself to ensure you have built up enough quality reasons for the prospect to meet you:

1) Does this quality reason build up enough priority on their to-do list that they are willing to spend the required time with me? What this means is they have to see the rationale as so important that it supercedes everything else they could be spending their time on.

2) Does this quality reason answer the prospect question, ‘What’s in it for me?’. This question will have to answered in the affirmative for you to even have a chance of seeing them.

3) How obvious is it that the reason relates to the prospect’s business more than it does mine? That is, is it clear that the meeting will concentrate on the current situations the prospect’s business is facing, rather than highlighting why I should be their choice of supplier?

4) Can you summarise the business reason well enough that it can be said in a message or voicemail left for the prospect? If it’s framed purely to say what you want to sell, then there is no point in leaving it. They won’t be interested. They’re only interested in what it will do for them.

Having sufficient quality reasons for the prospect to see you will underpin your and your prospect’s time that you are both giving up to discuss the options going forward.

Identify those reasons before even calling the prospect, so you both know the benefits both parties will achieve in solving the challenges they face.

Happy Selling!


Sean McPheat
Managing Director
MTD Sales Training

(Image by Ambro)

The Ultimate Question That Gives You The Ultimate Answer

In a book I hold dear in my library, business loyalty guru Fred Reichheld revealed the question most critical to your company’s future: “Would you recommend us to a friend?”

Just think about that question for a moment.

If you asked all of your clients, they may well say ‘yes’. But what does it actually mean?

Firstly, ‘recommend’. When you recommend something, you have built up many reasons why it should receive your approval. It must make you feel better in some way, either through the service you received or the quality of the product. It also has to make you feel confident and hence build trust in it in some way.

So, for something or somebody to receive my ‘recommendation’, it will have to have added some real benefit to my life or business. I don’t easily give my endorsements on LinkedIn, for instance. The person really has had to impress me and given me cause to say that they are due that reward.

If someone is willing to recommend you and your services, it means they like you, believe in you, have confidence in you and trust you. They certainly wouldn’t pass on your details to a friend or colleague if they lacked even one of those components.

Secondly, think about the term ‘friend’. This is someone they are close to and they don’t want to be made to look a fool if they recommended something to this close acquaintance that turns out to be a dud or poor quality. By answering the question affirmatively, they are telling you that they trust you enough to deleiver the same kind of quality and service to someone they are close to, even in a business sense.

Make a list of your loyal customers. At your next meeting with them, ask them Fred’s question. If they answer ‘yes’, ask them why. Their answers will clarify what they really think of your company and how your future relationship will pan out.

Known as the ‘Ultimate Question’, it delivers a powerful message to you and your team, from the person who really matters; the client.

Happy Selling!

Sean McPheat
Managing Director
MTD Sales Training

(Image by Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Don’t Encourage The Fight-Or-Flight Response

One of my trainers recently asked a course delegate what his favourite ‘closing’ statement or question was. We often invoke this kind of discussion on our programmes, just to see if anyone is still working from the old mindset of canned scripts or numbed rhetoric.

The delegate said he had been taught the one about asking the ‘trapped’ question, where no matter what the prospect says, he is opening himself up to be closed!

The example given was the question “If we could solve this problem for you today, would you move forward with us?”

How many prospects would seriously answer that with “No, we don’t want to solve that problem, we just want to continue throwing money away!” I’ve heard one or two sarcastic prospects answer that way, but only when they’ve become bored or simply want to end the meeting because they’ve lost respect for the salesperson’s tactics.

No, the main problem with that form of question is that it immediately makes the prospect go on guard. Trust is lost and there’s no room for manoeuvre. He feels trapped (hence the label given earlier) and he feels he has to fight back (sarcasm, avoiding the issue, etc) or he leaves the conversation, either literally or mentally.

You must make the prospect feel safe in their conversation with you. When people feel safe they tend to relax, be more open, more confident and trusting of the other person. Here’s an example of a question that may invoke the fight-or-flight reaction:

“Is the current situation causing issues for you?”

The immediate thought going through the prospect’s mind is “If I say Yes, this joker is going to try to sell to me. If I say No, it’s obvious I’m lying because that’s why I’m speaking to him in the first place!”

In other words, they are trapped in a place that makes them feel uncomfortable, under pressure and unsure of what they need to say.

Far better to say something like: “I’m unsure at the moment whether the situation is causing you major problems or not, but if they are, we may be able to discuss if these issues are costing you enough time and money for you to actually make efforts to solve them”.

This non-threatening approach actually helps the prospect to see the role he needs to play in the meeting, and it hands him a little more control in the conversation. He doesn’t feel threatened to the point where he needs to be guarded about his answers and it allows him to be clearer about his concerns and which way he would like to go. This confidence inspires trust and drives the conversation forward.

By concentrating on the effective questions you can ask, you stop the fight-or-flight response from being raised in the first place. So, unlike our example given at the start, think how your ‘closing’ questions can encourage openness and participation in the prospect. That way, you’ll keep the lines of communication open and resist any barriers that might be placed because of pressure being applied.

Happy selling!

Sean McPheat
Managing Director
MTD Sales Training

(Image by SimplyPsychology.org)

A Great Way To Get Information From Prospects

There’s a saying that sums up where most people’s careers end up, and it goes something like “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up anywhere”.

And it’s also true when you’re having a conversation with a prospect. The amount of information you obtain from them is concurrent with the quality of the questions you ask.

When we consider the type of questions that we ask of a prospect, we seldom think about the structure or the flow of the question. What I mean by this is we may go armed with a list of the information we want from the conversation, but we don’t always think about how we are going the build the questioning process. So we often just come out with a question that sounds ok, but doesn’t position it for the prospect or doesn’t add to the converstaion.

So you might want to try looking at the quality of your questioning technique, and I’ve got some tips that might help you achieve just that.

Called the ‘questioning framework‘, it gives you ideas that will help you produce powerful questions that help hit the mark and achieve end goals.

The framework consists of talking about the ‘event‘ that triggered the situation or the change, the ‘question‘ that will drive their thinking, the ‘person’ or ‘persons‘ who will be affected, and the actions that need to be taken.

It sounds a little complicated but some examples will make it simpler.

Imagine you’re talking about insurance to a prospect. It’s going well, but you want the prospect to actually make a decision. Here’s a question you could ask that covers all four elements mentioned above.

“When you think about your family’s future, how valuable would it be for you to have peace of mind that their needs are taken care of if anything should happen?’

The ‘event’ is covered first, then the question of value, then the person (you) and finally the action that will drive behaviour.

Here’s another example. Let’s assume your business prospect is thinking about developing their staff. Here’s  a question that will make them think:

‘As you develop your staff’s skills, would it be more cost-effective for you and the board to have a continuous programme assisted by e-learning and coaching?’

Those four elements cover all the points you want to make with a prospect, without putting them under any pressure. It makes them identify what the most important and value areas to consider are, and aids them in making specific decisions with your help.

Think about the types of questions you can ask that will fit this framework and see if it makes a difference to the way you gain information.

Happy selling!

Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Sales Training


(Image by Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The Best Type Of Question That Gets Quick Answers

What makes a great salesperson? Product knowledge? Great organisation and timekeeping? The ability to prospect effectively?

All these are, of course, vital in the armoury of the salesperson who wants to make a success of their profession.

But there’s one skill that I believe puts a salesperson head and shoulders above their competition, especially when they are actually face to face with the prospect, at the cutting edge of the decision-making process.

And that skill is the ability to ask hard-hitting, thought-provoking, stop-me-in-my-tracks questions.

Now, you already know how important questions are, and you’ve probably heard you need to ask open questions to get the prospect talking. That’s ancient sales talk.

However, the type of question that will set you above all other salespeople is what I call the ‘action-inducing’ question.

These are questions that focus not on what I think the prospect needs, nor the problems faced, nor what the current pain is. Instead, they focus on what the prospect is doing now and what the results of those actions are.

This way, we get a clear picture of what is going on, how they do things and what changes might have to be made to get the results they are requiring.

For example, we are currently working with a large European company in the construction industry. They approached us for help on how to develop their salespeople’s skills in the consultative process. Rather than just having the salesperson go in armed with all the knowledge of their products, this company wants to change the mindset so the approach is one of solution-oriented consultation.

Our first approach, then, was to find out exactly what the salespeople actually do and say right now.

We asked “How are you inducting and training your sales staff now in order for them to go out into the field? What continuous training and development do they receive to get them confident in asking for business? How do they currently approach challenges and concerns that they face on a daily basis?”

These questions are all about the actions the company and salespeople make in their day-to-day operations, and it’s vital we know the processes they go through before we can see if any changes are required and in what way those changes should be rolled out.

If we had simply designed a programme on consultative selling without finding out about the actions currently employed, we would most likely have missed the key points needed by this client, and any programme would have been sterile at best and pointless at worst.

The questions that are needed are based on current action, so you get a clear picture of what is happening now. This is essential if you are to identify the changes that are required to get different results from what’s happening at the moment.

Formulate your questions to ascertain what the prospect is actually doing now and you’ll find your relationship-building is easier, more meaty conversations are carried out and trust is built much more quickly.

Happy Selling!

Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Sales Training


(Image by Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)


Questions That Get You Quality Answers

One of the best qualities that we can develop in sales is the skill of asking questions. Being able to obtain information from prospects is a pre-requisite to providing answers and services to them.

When we ask salespeople what type of questions they ask of their prospects, they often reply with ‘open’ and ‘closed’ questions. These are the basic questions that a person can ask. But there are more ‘types’ of questions that will help you get deeper and more concise information. Here are a series of different questions you can ask that will get you quality answers.


  • Probing Questions: These dig deeper for further intense information. For example, the client may say they are looking for a better price. A probing question could be, “When you say ‘better price’ are you referring to the up-front price or the long-term cost?”
  • Rhetorical Questions: These are questions where you’re not expecting an answer to,  but make the client think as if a question is being asked. For example, you might say, “I’m sure you’d agree that the extra warranty builds more confidence in the product?” Also “This will offer you better return on investment, which is what you said you needed, isn’t it?”
  • Focused Questions: These narrow down the discussions by concentrating on specific areas of concern for the client. For example, “You mentioned the extra costs incurred in developing your own solutions. Exactly how much are you talking about?” This focusses in on specific concerns and helps you zero in on solutions.
  • Reflecting Questions: These reflect back on what the customer might have been referring to and helps the detail become clearer. For example, “When you say ‘I’m looking to start very soon’, could you tell me when ‘very soon’ is?” You take the ideas and concerns the prospect may have and act like a mirror in reflecting them back to him, for further and deeper discussions.
  • Hypothetical Questions: These are conjectural or conditional questions that get the client thinking through various scenarios. For example, “Suppose you were to change suppliers and get quicker deliveries…what impact would that have on your current level of business?” Also, “What would happen if you lost two of you top ten customers?” These questions get the prospect thinking about the possible future situations.
  • Clarifying Questions: These do as you would suppose, clarifying the situation, so there’s less distortion in the understanding. For example, “Could you be more precise when you say you want ‘better results’?” Also, “How do you see these services offering better results for your customers?” You increase the clarity of meaning when the prospect answers these questions.
  • Leading Questions: These are questions that lead the client to a clearer understanding of what your solution might do for them. For example, “You do understand how our BX150 Model will help you save money in the long run, and help you reduce time needed to fix faults, don’t you?” Also, “This solution will encourage your customers to be more loyal to you, which is what you were requiring, wasn’t it?” This type of question aids in building confidence in your solution by gaining agreement with you.

What you’ll see is how many questions cross over each other, so some clarifying questions may also be open, focussed and reflecting as well. Some leading questions may be probing and clarifying. So the real point is not to think ‘what type of question should I ask?’ It’s ‘How can my quality of questions get the best out of the discussions I am having?’

Be aware of the way you can get the client to consider different options with the different format of questions, and you’ll find you get better quality answers from your prospects.

Happy Selling!

Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Sales Training


(Image by Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

How To Deal With A Fixed Budget

Many times, your prospect will state that the budget they are working to is fixed, cannot be moved and must not be exceeded. They have a firm figure in mind and you would be asked politely to leave the office if you go beyond the stated figures.

I’m sure you’ve been in this situation, and I’m sure you’ll experience it again and again.

But how often have you gone to buy something yourself, with a fixed budget in mind? And how many times have you seen something that has swayed your decision? Have you sometimes had a fixed budget in your mind, and then persuaded yourself (or been persuaded by someone else) that something is worth spending more money on?

What made you change your mind?

I’m sure it was because you saw even more value in what you eventually bought, causing you to re-evaluate your original budget.

Take a look at that key word….re-e-value-ate. You are sizing up the value and seeing that something else is worth more. That’s something you can do with your prospect when they say they have a fixed budget.

Let’s say your prospect has stated a figure of XXX or less for their investment. And let’s assume you are presenting a new car to the prospect, but this can be used for any product or service…

“Ok, Mr Prospect, let’s make sure I understand what’s most important to you. You’ve told me that you want good performance from a diesel. You also need reliability and confidence in the vehicle because of your long journeys. Sat-nav and some of the optional extras are also important to you. And you also told me you’re only willing to look at cars £25,000 or less, is that all correct?”

Now you can determine whether that is a fixed figure or actually can be moved. You continue…

“If a have a vehicle that offers you and your family everything you want – the reliability, performance, economy and options that you want, plus others – but it’s listed at above £25,000, would it be fair to say that you would not like me to even show it to you?”

How do you think the prospect would react? They may say something like, “Well, if it has all that and more, I might be willing to have a look!”

“Great!” you reply. “Exactly how much more would you be comfortable with?”

“Well, maybe up to £27,500 but it will have to be something really special!”

Who just increased the budget? You or the prospect? They did, of course, and it was ll brought about with a quality, power question. Done with integrity and no pressure, you have found that the budget wasn’t as fixed as you first thought.

Try it with your product or service. If you really do have something that would be better for the prospect at the higher price, then you owe it to them and you to offer it. Gaining permission before showing it shows you have their interests in mind.

Happy selling!

Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Sales Training


(Image by Marcus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)