If you’re looking to start selling consultatively, you’ll need to master the art of Socratic questioning. If you’re stumped on what questions to ask clients and how to structure your approach to uncover their problems, look no further. Here’s what you need to know.
The goal of a consultative seller’s line of questioning is to uncover your client's needs––aka a problem that needs fixing! What’s more, you only need to find one compelling problem.
To do this, consultative sellers use Socratic questions—questions that are designed to make their recipients work through complicated problems and their implications. This method involves asking open-ended—who, what, when, where, why, how—questions that encourage the client to talk at length, rather than give simple yes/no answers.
“Your goal is to uncover one thing they're struggling with that you can help with. So, think about the line of questioning you would ask to uncover that,” says Paul O’Donohue, Founder and Group CEO of SalesStar Global.
“Your questions should take the client on a journey to self-discover this problem and the impact it’s having on their business. Plan the questions you would ask to discover how motivated they are to take action, and whether they have the budget and how do they make decisions on that.”
In a nutshell, your line of questioning needs to:
There is no such thing as perfect, especially in business. There is almost certainly something your clients would like to do better or be better at. Questions that ask after your client’s current state of affairs should start to get them thinking about their pain points and the implications they’re having on their business.
Remember not all costs are financial. They can be both measurable, such as number of customers, time, wastage, productivity, and non-measurable, such as employee wellness and brand health.
Costs could include:
This question is the favorite of psychiatrists for a reason. It’s effective. It also helps to trigger an emotional state that’ll motivate your prospect to find a solution.
Take your client back through their past attempts to rectify the problem and why it did or didn’t work. This not only helps you understand the scope of the problem better, but also focuses the client’s attention on the scale of the problem, and that it is still persisting.
Questions that look to the future implications a problem could have can further motivate clients to find a solution. Try to encourage your customer to consider both the business and personal impact the problem may cause.
This question is the proverbial carrot. It dangles a “what if” in front of the client’s nose and encourages them to visualise a future where their pain is gone and what that could mean on a business (reduced costs, greater profits) and personal level (relief, confidence).
It’s perhaps the most important question you can ask. Without this information, you have no idea if your solution is fit for your client, moreover, the answer can help you put the scale of the problem in perspective. A budget of $50,000 might seem like a lot to a salesperson, but for a multinational turning over $30 million in profit, it’s a modest sum.
“Questions that lead down the wrong rabbit hole, or don't lead anywhere are the wrong questions to ask,” says Paul O’Donohue, Founder and Group CEO of SalesStar Global. “Too many of those dead-end questions will be frustrating for both parties.”
The trick to really nailing the consultative questioning strategy is to prepare well and have a line of questions ready to go before meeting the client.
“It's a discovery meeting and it's about asking the right questions to discover if the client has a problem that you can help with, if you’re the right person to do that, and if your solution will fit their budget and timings,” says Paul. “So, any questions outside of that is too many questions.”
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