6 Tips for Asking Exploratory Questions

November 9, 2017  |  Posted by in Communication Skills, Diagnosing Customer Needs, Exploratory Process

Control the Desire to Ask Too Much, Too Quickly

In a recent blog, we addressed the critical nature of the Exploratory Process as a means to understand the customer’s needs and motivations, and we identified the risks associated with asking too many questions. If you missed it, you can read here: Is There Such a Thing as TOO MUCH Exploratory? To get the most out of the Exploratory Process, sales professionals must consider the volume and pacing of our questions. Asking too many questions, or asking them in rapid succession, will make the customer feel as though they are being interrogated. This not only compromises the quality of the discussion, it also limits the ability of the customer to think out loud, which is really the goal of the Exploratory Process.

Exploratory Questions Call for Exploratory Answers

It is not enough for sales professionals to ask questions, we must also allow the customer or prospect enough time to answer thoughtfully. This sounds easy, but it’s not. Often, sales professionals will ask a great open-ended question, but instead of waiting for a response, they continue to ask questions, or try and explain the question with more questions without letting the customer answer the first (and usually most important) question. Here’s a good example:  “What color marker do you want? Do you want red? Or green? Or black? Or blue?” The most important question was the first one asked, “What color marker do you want?” This sales professional must refrain from continuing to talk and let the silence do its precious work! It’s the only way he/she will learn that the customer wants a purple marker.

Consider these tips for the best results when asking open-ended questions:

  1. Start any question with How, What or Where.
  2. Ask questions to understand, not to sell.
  3. Remember, the goal of the question is to have a conversation, not launch a presentation.
  4. Phrase questions such that the customer knows you are trying to help, not in a manipulative way that leads them to your solution.
  5. Customer “answers” will likely not be facts, but insights that uncover improvements the person is working to achieve.
  6. Questions should encourage a pause and thought, allowing the customer to respond, not react, to your question.

We must always approach customer interaction, including exploratory questions, from the customer’s perspective. To the degree that they appreciate the sales professional asking questions to better understand their needs, they also appreciate being allowed the time/opportunity to consider the question and respond thoughtfully. And that aligns perfectly with the sales professional’s need for thoughtful customer insight.

Updated on 2/20/2020

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