The Concept Of Inquiry: How To Get A Balanced View Of The Prospect’s Needs

Written by Sean McPheat | Linkedin thumb

3D red QuestionMany of our programmes have exercises and activities that bring the best out of salespeople.

This is especially true when we run activities around the conversational quality of questioning techniques. Naturally, we as humans are inquisitive and want to find out information. Improving our questioning skills is one of the ways that we find information that will help us progress the sale.

But many times we find salespeople are more likely to make suggestions or give advice rather than dig deeper to identify rationale for specific ideas the prospect has.

We call this the difference between advocacy and inquiry, and it’s important that we know the difference and are able to consciously apply them at the right times.

Basically, the two terms are at either end of a communications continuum. At one end is the idea of ‘advocacy‘. This is where you give advice, make suggestions, tell your side of the story, direct or control the conversation. Your opinions or viewpoints are aired and the other person listens.

The other end has the idea of ‘inquiry’. This is where you are asking questions, making investigations, opening your mind to new ideas, following up on what the other person has said and identifying new ways of progressing. You listen intently to the other person, noting their views and ideas, without making judgement or counteracting with your opinions. You’re simply finding out information or digging deeper to gain more knowledge.

How many times have you been conversing with someone and then realised that they were only interested in their own opinion? Your viewpoint wasn’t relevant; it was simply a download of opinions or information from the other person, with no regard for your input or ideas.

How did that conversation make you feel? Sometimes, it’s good just to listen to what others have to say, especially if it’s interesting, absorbing and informative.

But oftentimes conversations like this are tiresome and frustrating. The other person is simply interested in letting you know what’s right and is not interested in changing or debating a viewpoint. This is the ‘advocacy’ position, where a person simply downloads information and is not swayed by any other opinion or fact.

Imagine if that was the stance you took in a prospect meeting. You simply regurgitated your product brochure, displaying your knowledge like a fountain gushing out flowing water, and your prospect was expected to act like a sponge, soaking up all you good stuff. What would the end result be?

The prospect would be far more knowledgeable about you and your products and services…but would that convince them to buy or make them feel yours was the best solution?

Not always. Taking the position of ‘inquiry’ opens up the discussion, making it more pertinent and applicable to the prospect. Inquiry increases the rapport between the two of you, highlighting needs and directing the conversation forward to a naturally conclusion, driven by the needs, wants and desires of the prospect.

Think about your next conversation with a prospect. How much of it has to revolve around you and your product, and how much has to concentrate on gaining facts, opinions and information?

Deciding on which end of the scale you should be in the ‘advocacy’ and ‘inquiry’ continuum is important, as it will determine whether you progress the sale through quality fact-finding, or lose the opportunity through forcing information when it’s not the right time.

Balance the two effectively and you create opportunities to advance the sale.

Happy Selling!


Sean McPheat

Sean McPheat
Managing Director

MTD Sales Training | Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

450 sales questions free report

Originally published: 9 April, 2013

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