Bone Up on Your Questions to Seal the Deal
By Donna L. Cohen
In selling situations, the problem the prospect
brings you is rarely the actual issue or concern. Your job as the
salesperson (i.e. - problem solver) is to uncover the problems and
identify the real issues. By spending the time upfront, asking
intelligent questions you’ll be able to provide real value to the
client down the road. And, if you discover there’s nothing for you
to help with, move on.
The key is to slow down early in the process to ask
the questions necessary to gain understanding and insight. What’s
your rush? Before plunging in, determine if the prospect is trying to
fulfill a vision or solve a problem. Prospects will be more motivated
to buy if they have a problem to eliminate rather than a long-term
vision to realize.
But even if the prospect starts out talking about
“vision,” if you ask the right questions, you’ll uncover the
obstacle that’s preventing the vision from being realized. For
example, if their vision is, “I want to increase market share by 20
percent,” you can quickly get to the problem by asking, “What
happens if you don’t achieve a 20 percent increase in market
share?” Your job is to help prospects discover the real
problem and see the solution, and then help them understand the
consequences if they fail to act.
I have a system for asking questions that covers
ground quickly in a logical sequence. This questioning methodology is
called COGS™, C=Current situation questions, O=Objectives questions,
G=Gap questions and S=Solution questions. Here are some examples.
C= CURRENT SITUATION QUESTIONS
“What are you currently doing to increase
“How is that working for you? What other
options have you explored?”
“What have you seen that you felt would not
work for you?”
When a prospect makes a statement about his current
situation (i.e. We’re in a highly competitive marketplace”…
continue to ask a series of questions from general to specific—from
intellectual to emotional (I call it “peeling the onion”) to gain
insights into the situation.
“Tell me more about that...”
“In your opinion, what are the reasons for
“What happens if the trend continues along
this path?”/What happens if you stay status quo?
“What are the consequences for the
“What are the consequences for
That last one? That’s the real issue—probably
won’t get the annual bonus, promotion, or might even lose the job!
The personal impact is what will prompt someone to change.
Fine Tuning Current Situation Questions
Questions to a VP of Marketing regarding advertising
(based on knowing that his company is focused on increasing market
share) might be:
“What level of interest do you have in
reaching new/additional markets?
“How do you measure success in your
“What are you doing that seems to be
effective in gaining market share?
“How long have you been looking into new
ways to capture additional sales?”
“How serious would you say the problem is
today (on a scale of 1 = 10 with 10 being the most serious)?”
If the prospect answers on the low end of the scale,
your reply could be:
If the prospect’s answer is, “Not exactly,” you
have an opening to ask...
“How might you see our solution working for
could lead to being able to say:
“So, may I ask what you think
having a web-based ordering process might be costing you (in round
Follow up with questions like these:
O= OBJECTIVES QUESTIONS
“What are your departmental goals and
objectives around enhancing customer relationships for the upcoming
“Who else (other departments and/or
individuals) is impacted by these objectives not being met?”
“What, if anything, is preventing you from
achieving these objectives?”
G= GAP QUESTIONS (The
“gap” is the difference between where they are and where they need
to be to achieve their objectives.)
“What are the consequences if you stay
“Suppose this project fails?”
“Suppose it is hugely successful?”
“How would it impact you personally?”
“In round numbers, what is this challenge
now costing you on an annual basis?”
S= SOLUTION QUESTIONS
“What solution do you envision to reduce
costs (improve productivity, enhance sales follow up, improve
marketing and service, and increase organizational efficiency)?”
“What do you picture as some possible
“How, specifically, would you define
“What would be “satisfactory”
improvement? What would be exceptional improvement?”
Ask Appropriate Questions for the Position you’re
Of course, depending on the level you are calling on,
the questions will range from big picture and visionary (what are your
plans for addressing increasing competitive pressures in your
industry?) to more tactical the lower in the organizational structure
you go. Your understanding of the concerns of individuals at certain
levels can help you plan appropriate questions. The higher you call in
an organization, the more visionary that individual will be.
So, assuming you are starting at the CxO level, you might start
“What are the two biggest challenges facing
“What do you see as opportunities for your
industry in the next 5-10 years?”
“From your perspective, what is the most
exciting future market for your company?
“How are you planning to increase
Then begin to peel the onion (i.e. dig deeper for
understanding, meaning and clarity).
“Usually when I talk with CEOs they
have concerns with: shareholder value (future market opportunities,
marketplace or industry trends). Which one of these concerns are you
Other open-ended questions:
Remember, asking good questions trumps answering
questions any day.
Read other articles and learn more about
Donna L. Cohen.
[This article is available at no-cost, on a non-exclusive basis.
Contact PR/PR at 407-299-6128 for details and