Discover Exactly What Your Sales Prospect Wants
in the Negotiation Process
By John Patrick Dolan
in sales can be a tricky process when salespeople don’t know the
true needs of their prospects. But the most successful sales and
business professionals know how to ask questions that determine what
their prospective clients really want. They use questions to open up
communications and encourage prospects to share information.
using questions to uncover information and to break down barriers at
the negotiating table requires more than just asking questions as you
think of them. If you ask the right question, you can get the
information you need to close the deal. But ask the wrong question,
and you risk offending your prospect and losing the sale. Essentially,
you must know how to ask effective questions that produce the right
effective questions requires forethought and skill. So use the
following seven guidelines for effective questioning techniques the
next time you sit down at the bargaining table with a potential
Plan Your Questions Ahead of Time:
starting the negotiations, figure out exactly what key issues you’ll
be negotiating. Researching the prospect you’re negotiating with,
his or her organization, and background relative to the situation
enables you to formulate the right questions to get more information.
what type of person the prospect is, whether he or she is an
experienced negotiator, and what’s at stake for the other party in
the deal. The more you know, the more effective your questions will
be. So plan in advance the kinds of questions likely to produce the
most information, and the kinds of questions with the most potential
for moving you and your prospect toward a solution.
Ask Permission to Ask Questions:
can sometimes put people on the defensive. To avoid this situation,
choose words and phrases that make your prospects feel like they are
being interviewed, rather than interrogated. The last thing you want
your prospects to feel is that they’re under interrogation. So use
care in your word choices and allow them to open up and let the
saying, “So that I can understand where you’re coming from and how
we might work more closely together, it would help me if I asked a few
question. Is that okay with you?”
have their permission, be sure to ask your questions gently. Instead
of saying, “Why do you insist on those terms?” try saying, “So I can
better understand your position, can you please explain to me why
those terms are so important to you?”
Begin with Broad, Simple Questions and Progress to Questions with More
questions prevent your prospects from feeling pinned down, so start
with open-ended inquiries. For example, ask them about their main goal
for the negotiation. This method will allow the prospects to answer in
general terms and to keep their negotiation strategy a secret. Then as
you and the other party become more comfortable, move on to narrower,
more direct questions.
questions give you specific information, such as facts and figures.
“How much to you expect to pay for this service?” is an example of
a direct question.
you uncover the facts, you can gradually progress to positioning and
strategic questions, such as, “What will it take for you to agree to
our offer?” Strategic questions help everyone focus on working out
an acceptable agreement.
Make Your Questions Simple:
questions that are easy to answer. In other words, don’t ask
questions that may make your prospect uncomfortable. So avoid personal
questions, unless the answer is absolutely vital to your negotiations.
For example, a person’s salary is personal information, but a real
estate agent has a valid reason for asking prospects to reveal how
much they make.
someone asks you a question that you don’t know how to answer, admit
it. Learn how to say, “I don’t know.” But always offer to find
out the answer, and promise to get back with them.
Once You’ve Asked a Question, Take Time to Listen:
listening seems like an obvious part of the question and answer
system, the practice is often overlooked. Many times, when salespeople
get caught up in the negotiation process, they focus on what they want
to ask prospects next, rather than listen attentively to their
want to get information from your prospects, you must listen to what
they say. Don’t plan your second question until they’ve answered
the first. Be quiet, concentrate on their responses, and consider how
their statements affect the negotiations.
Use Questions to Give Information:
sounding pushy or overbearing, communicate important information by
turning your statements into questions. For example, “Did you know
our company out-sold our closest competitors by 125 percent last
year?” sounds friendlier than just stating numbers and facts.
statements in the form of questions encourage your prospects to
respond with more information. For example, your prospect may respond,
“Yes, we were impressed with your company’s record of consistently
outperforming its competitors. The last company we dealt with seemed
to struggle to keep up, which caused many problems.” This response
tells you that they are aware of your reputation, and your stability
is important to them.
Use Questions to Clarify:
negotiators always ask enough questions to ensure that all parties
understand all the details of the agreement, because many times two
parties will agree, but not on the same terms. For example, if someone
agrees to pay on the first, what do they mean? They may mean that they
will pay on the first of the month, but which month? Or they may mean
they will pay on the first delivery, or the first chance they get.
sound nit-picky, but you should always cover every detail of the
agreement terms to avoid confusion. Keep asking questions until you
and your prospect mean the same things by the terms you use.
Benefits of Effective Questions:
is the key to better negotiations, and effective question-asking
techniques allow you to collect more information from your prospective
clients. The right questions can open up communication lines and
encourage conversations that increase the level of trust your prospect
has in you and the product or service you sell.
use these seven guidelines for effective questioning, you and your
prospect can move beyond your individual positions, focus on ways to
pool your strengths, and form mutually beneficial agreements. And
mutually beneficial agreements mean more clients, more sales, and more
money for you and your company.
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about John Patrick Dolan.
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