In today’s selling world, people are constantly talking about the importance of asking the right sales questions to understand a potential client’s needs.
But what does that really mean?
Unfortunately, a lot of salespeople take this to mean that they should just bombard prospects with random questions at random times. This couldn’t be further from the right approach to sales questions.
The reality is that you need to have an exact process to follow when it comes to asking the right sales questions at the right time.
In any given sales interaction, you should take prospects through a series of well-thought-out sales questions at different stages of the conversation that will ultimately unveil their needs.
In this video, I’m going to show you the five strategic, powerful sales questions you need to ask in order to determine a potential client’s needs. Check it out:
Sales Questions to Ask #1: Tell me more about that challenge.
This is a really simple question—and yes, I know it’s technically a statement—but it’s one of the most powerful sales questions out there nonetheless.
Before you ask this question of a prospect, I’m going to assume that you’ve already engaged the prospect in some kind of conversation about their challenges, concerns, or needs. Now it’s time to peel their statements back like an onion with your sales questions, starting with this one. You want to get to the core of what the prospect truly needs.
When approaching this sales question, it helps if you start to think like a psychologist. Consider that the initial statement a prospect makes can be almost meaningless sometimes. What matters is what comes after.
Most salespeople never get past the surface of a prospect’s initial statement. They just take whatever the prospect says at face value and then launch right into their pitch or say, “Well, you’re in the right place!”
But if you know to ask the powerful sales question “Tell me more about that challenge” then you’ll immediately go deeper and start the process of determining the prospect’s needs.
Sales Questions to Ask #2: What’s a recent example of that?
This sales question takes you even deeper. You’ve already compelled your prospect to tell you more about their key challenge—now, you’re asking for a recent example.
This sales question is all about taking the prospect’s pain-point from academic to reality. When prospects talk to salespeople about their challenges, it often feels academic in nature. You want to make it real.
That’s why you’re going to ask about a recent example of that challenge. (If it’s a challenge that they’re actually facing, there should be a recent example of what’s going on that they can share. If there’s not, then that’s not the challenge you should be discussing in the first place.)
Once the prospect gives you an example, it’s amazing how it just flips a switch. That’s because now you’re getting into what really matters—and you can feel the shift in the conversation. Prospects can feel it too.
At the same time, the example they share helps you get so much more insight into what’s actually happening, and why it’s so problematic for the prospect. Because, let’s face it, asking great sales questions isn’t just about understanding the prospect’s needs. It’s also about getting the prospect to articulate those challenges, and to admit to themselves how much pain they’re really in.
Sales Questions to Ask #3: If you could solve this, what would it mean in dollars?
You might be thinking, “Whoa, that is an uncomfortable question.” But if you can translate your prospect’s challenges into dollars, then you’ll get them to tell you the value of your solution. There’s nothing more powerful than that.
After all, what does it really mean to sell “on value?” Well, it means asking sales questions like this one. Get the prospect to articulate exactly what their problem costs them in dollars.
Now, I know that people who are selling to consumers might say, “But consumers don’t deal with dollars. That only make sense for corporate.” Absolutely not. Consumers—really, any human beings—can translate most problems into a dollar amount.
And by the way, if there is truly no dollar value on the challenge your prospect mentioned, you can still ask something like, “If you could solve this, what would it mean to you?” or “If you were able to solve this, what would it mean, big picture?”
The main idea is that you want to get the prospect thinking, “If I were actually able to solve this, what would that really mean for me?”
Sales Questions to Ask #4: Why is this an issue right now?
This sales question is important because it gives urgency to the prospect’s needs. Far too often, business (and just life in general) can feel like triage. Sometimes we feel like doctors at a hospital with more patients than hospital beds. We’re trying to solve more problems than we have the resources to actually fix.
That’s why this sales question is so critical. You want to dig deep to find out the urgency and relevancy of the prospect’s challenge—right now. The prospect may answer, “Well, we’re really more focused on solving this in Q4,” or “While it’s important to us, I think I’ve got a couple of other issues that are more important right now. Then I want to come back to this down the road.”
On the other hand, if it’s really important to them, they’re going to say, “If we do not solve this challenge in the next three months, we’re going out of business,” or “If we don’t deal with this, our lives are going to be chaos.”
Note that you’re not trying to get the prospect to say why working with you is important right now. That’s a salesy kind of an approach. Instead, you’re getting them to think about solving the challenge that they mentioned—but at the same time it’s also reinforcing in their head, “Yeah, this is really important to solve. And oh, by the way, I’m talking to this person who’s asked me some really powerful questions to get me to actually articulate why I care about this.”
Sales Questions to Ask #5: How is this affecting you directly?
Let’s say you solve operational issues and the prospect is talking about the organization’s operational challenges. But as the prospect talks, it becomes clear that they’re focusing on how the challenge affects everyone else but them.
Until you start to understand how this issue is affecting the prospect directly, you won’t be able to determine whether the prospect is going to make a buying decision one way or the other. Ultimately the data shows that all buying decisions are made based on emotion. We just use logic to justify the emotional decision. So dig deep to understand how the challenge affects the prospect personally—and emotionally.
Be sure to ask this sales question with some very compassionate, interested tonality. Say something like, “Hey, I really appreciate what you’ve told me so far. How would you say that this is affecting you directly, on a personal level?”
Bonus Sales Questions to Ask #1: Why do you say that?
I’ve already given you the five sales questions to ask a potential client to determine their needs. But I want to give you two more bonus sales questions that you can employ to dig even deeper. The first one is “Why do you say that?”
Ask this question whenever a prospect says something that kind of flips a switch, or makes you pause and think. Or if they say something to you that doesn’t entirely make sense, you can ask this question too. “Help me understand that” is another variation of this sales question that does wonders to help you understand exactly what they care about.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s say a prospect says something that’s a little bit vague like, “Oh yeah, if we don’t solve this, things are going to get crazy around here.” Respond with, “Huh, things will get crazy? Help me understand. Why do you say that?”
Bonus Sales Questions to Ask #2: Unpack that for me.
Here’s another sales question that’s actually a statement. It’s one of my personal favorites because it’s a unique, disarming way to get a prospect to go deeper into what they just said.
Let’s say a prospect says, “Hey, we’re really concerned about our marketing challenges right now, and in particular our cost per click really isn’t where we want it to be.” All you have to say it, “Unpack that for me.” And now they’ll go deeper and deeper. They unpack their figurative luggage and show you all the items inside.
Using these questions effectively and consistently will take some practice, but keep at it. Don’t accept what prospects say on face value. Get to the core of what they ultimately care about by being systematic about asking these powerful sales question in every single sales interaction.
Now you know the five sales questions to ask a potential client to determine their needs. Which of these sales questions did you find most useful? I’d love to hear from you. Please share below in the comments and join the discussion.
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About the Author Marc Wayshak
Marc is is the best-selling author of three books on sales and leadership, including the highly acclaimed titles Game Plan Selling, The High-Velocity Sales Organization and his forthcoming book, Sales Conversations, Mastered.
Marc is a contributor to Inc, HubSpot, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Huffington Post Business. He also hosts a popular YouTube channel on sales strategy with over 103,000 subscribers.
Marc helps thousands of people his data-driven, science-based approach to selling that utilizes all the best tools available to sales organizations today.