Let’s talk 07885 197 364
Book a 30 Minute
Introduction Meeting
Book a 30 Minute
Introduction Meeting
Book a 30 Minute
Introduction Meeting

Good Questioning Leads to Great Sales

Last updated June 15, 2012
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

I’m really pleased to post this guest blog from Steve Jessop for you all to read, enjoy and learn from. His knowledge of the B2B sales market is second to none and I know that you will all learn something from this first blog. In part one we look at what's required to gain insight into what's happening on the other side of the desk and how to start preparing to give your client real business value. In part two next week, Steve will give his insider's view on getting ready for When the Rubber hits the Road!

First, a short and true story.....

I accompanied one of our client’s Account Managers (“one of our best guys – great at managing relationships”, according to the Sales Director) on his first visit to a customer he had just inherited from a departing colleague.  Our client has one of the most instantly recognisable brands in its sector and the customer in this instance was a huge U.S. services business.

We were surprised to hear that our key contact was shortly to be leaving the company and we were joined by the manager due to replace him. We were also joined by the Procurement Manager. It looked interesting to me. A new Account Manager and three of his customer’s contacts in a room, all with very different agendas. A good opportunity you might think?  Investigate the agendas. Find out what they think – how they see things - and position himself as the person to move things forward positively with the right solutions……. Unfortunately that wasn’t what happened….. What actually happened during a 2 hour meeting was:

  • He spent ¾ of his time talking to the current contact
  • He almost completely ignored the heir-apparent
  • He ‘talked over’ people much of the time – especially the Procurement Manager who was dying to have his say and flex his muscles
  • Most of all, in over 2 hours, he asked four questions – and three of those were ‘closed’ questions.

It was amazing that I had enamel left on my teeth after that meeting…!!

The heart of the problem.....

The fact is that there are too many people out there (including salespeople) who spend most of their lives in a ‘comfort zone’ talking about their products and services to people who may / may not understand them. They just talk at customers hoping that the sale happens. The key gap is that the person on the ground doesn’t get to understand his / her customer’s business and therefore cannot connect the company's services and products to the customer’s business needs.

The real world position…

In different, more buoyant, times, with proven products to call upon, and customers with big budgets to spend, eye-catching sums of money have been earned by people who have been riding the crest of the wave and taking orders. But that 'wave’ looks a little different now doesn’t it…. ?

The business people (those we might call ‘budget-setters’ as opposed to ‘budget-spenders’) insist on seeing proof of where and how the products will deliver a real return on investment for their business before they will consider parting with their cash. The inevitable conclusion is therefore: no demonstrable return on investment and no sale…

So what do we need to consider?

  • If you are to provide the highly necessary proof, you must understand, intimately, where and how your product delivers great business value for your customer.
  • But,you will not get to this understanding without delving deeply into the quantifiable needs and wants of your customer. ‘Needs’ are logically-based; ‘wants’ are emotionally-based. There is some more information on this below.

You must get smarter with your questions. Let me explain what this amounts to.

“The greatest enemy of communication is the illusion of it.” – Pierre Martineau.

Preparation. Avoiding the ‘waste of space’ syndrome

It seems pretty straightforward really, bordering on the bland even -- take an interest in your customer’s business. Our niche is the business-to-business sector, and we consistently find that our clients’ people know little more than the obvious headline stuff about their customers. In the example above you will, I’m sure, have spotted that the Account Manager who is “great at managing relationships” knew nothing about his key contact’s imminent departure until we pitched up on the doorstep. A little bit of advance communication prior to the visit would surely have picked that fact up?

Frankly, if you are not interested; really, genuinely, interested, in your customer’s business what ARE you doing in there?  You’re a waste of space. If you aspire to be more than a waste of space, here are some ‘starter-for-ten’ examples of customer-related issues you might want to ponder on:

  • What does your customer’s business really look like today? For example; Size, market position, profitability, business unit structure etc.
  • What do they sell? Not just the headline products and services, but their value propositions too.
  • Who are their competitors? Where and how are they a threat to your customer?
  • Who and what are the influencers and sources of pressure within their industry?
  • How has your customer’s business grown? In a numerical sense – but also in an organic and / or acquisitive sense?
  • What are their business plans for the future?

Not comfortable with these types of questions? Then either: get comfortable with them quickly, or get another job !!

Preparing to sell – our key areas of focus.

Next, you need to think carefully about:

  • What you are likely to be able to deliver for your customer and where it will add real business value for them - we call these Sales Propositions.
  • What information you need i.e. what you must question for, to isolate the customer’s quantifiable needs and wants for what your products & services can potentially deliver
  • Better understand your customer’s ‘how’ and ‘whom’ in relation to making a buying decision which favours you.

"Judge a man by his questions, not by his answers" – Voltaire

The core of good selling: questions in relation to your sales propositions.

The key elements of your services and products need to be considered and captured in relation to how they could be advantageous to different types of decision-influencer within the customer’s organisation, as well as who you will be competing with.

Questions should be prepared which allow you to gradually and conversationally explore where the needs and wants might be for what you can do well, and where the cost, pain, inconvenience, wasted time, personal preference, competitive pressure etc, is.

When presenting your solution later in the cycle you will reinforce how you will address these problems and pressures with suitable pre-prepared 'proofs'.

Each of the above should be grouped together. Specifically:

  1. The features and advantages of your service or product for which you will identify the customer's needs & wants with your questions
  2. The questions you will ask to identify these needs & wants, which will ultimately allow you to present the business benefits to your customer.

We run pretty intensive workshops on this subject, sometimes of several days’ duration, so I can’t do justice to the detail in a short article – but here are some guidelines:

  • 'Group’ your analysis of your sales propositions to reflect:
    • The headline description of what the individual proposition does
    • The challenges, problems & pain which you need to establish; via your questions, of course
    • Some of the kinds of question you intend to ask to flush out and quantify those challenges, problems & pain.
      • Try to ensure that the early questions for each of your proposition groupings are quite broad and open, and only loosely connected with the subject matter. For example “How is the business performing?”
      • Use more searching, leading questions only when you have plenty of information, gained from the answers to the broader questions. For example “That’s interesting, what has to happen in a technology sense to support the business? “ What kinds of demands is that putting on you and your people?
      • Put the groupings into a logical sequence; although you may need to be flexible and move them around according to how the conversation progresses and the information that you glean.

Why people buy

We often use the iceberg analogy when considering why the customer actually buys. At the tip of the iceberg, above the water, are the logically-based 'needs'. These are generally openly declared. To be a  contender for the business you must be able to satisfy them. Typically, 'needs' include issues such as timescales, budgets, resource capability and references. They are important of course, but these days you can often respond to them by e-mail!

The bulk of the iceberg is under the surface and this is where the emotionally-based 'wants' are submerged. These are not always obvious. They often don't land in your lap, and so it's usually much harder to identify them. But they are invariably very big drivers in buying decisions. If you are serious about selling a meaningful solution you must understand them; really understand them, and the solution you ultimately present must reflect them one way or another.

Some examples, from a very long list of wants, include:

  • Kudos (being made a hero within the organisation)
  • Ego
  • Company politics
  • ‘Not invented here’ (i.e. his or her idea)
  • Security or insecurity
  • Control
  • The leading edge ‘pioneer’ (i.e. the person who wants to be seen as the innovator)
  • Personal chemistry.

What are you really selling?

“What we sell is the ability for a 43 year-old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns, and have people be afraid of him.” – Harley-Davidson Executive.

As we know that emotion has a lot to do with why your customer buys it ought to get you thinking more about what it is that you are really selling. In an era of increasing commoditisation, people are buying into products which have, what you could call ‘emotional appeal’. Examples of emotional appeal themes might be: control; change, freedom, recognition, and care.

In our day-to-day lives continental mineral water is an example of this. The premium many of us will pay for ‘free range’ eggs is another and this is a great example of 'care' emotional appeal. An illustration of the ‘control’ theme is a mobile phone network providing the means to control our life. It could be said that people buy ‘North Face’ clothing to identify with those pioneers climbing Mount Everest (freedom).


The key issue for you in sales terms is to get a fix on where you can deliver most value for your customer and then to prepare the questions you must ask to establish and quantify the real business value of your proposition.

Part Two coming next week!

Steve Jessop is the co-founder of b2b sector sales improvement consultancy, Quantum (www.quantum-sales.com). He also acts as a private sales advisor for several SME sector businesses.

Contact Steve Jessop by email at steve@spguk.co.uk by mobile on +447973 909648, or follow him on twitter @stevenJessop1

Shirley Mansfield
Master Business Problem Solver

When you’re ready here are three ways I can help you build your business:

1. Follow me on X / LinkedIn and let me know the business challenges keeping you awake at night that you want to solve. Click here to email. Connect with me, The Business Planning Coach on Facebook and Instagram.

2. Grab a copy of my book The Grown-Up Business (paperback and Kindle). Get the tools and inspiration you need to go to the next level of wealth.

3. Work with me on your growth business to overcome the blockages, hurdles & problems that are holding you back. Join the community, email me with Let’s Get Started in the subject line or book a 30 Discovery Meeting using Calendly


“If you run a business, then buy this book. Not tomorrow, today!”
~ Sam Carpenter Work The System

© 2024 CoachSME and Shirley Mansfield

Website design by Pegu Design
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram