Telling Isn't Selling
January 27, 2007 • By Michael Pink
Where do we go to find the “four cornerstones” of sales success? I believe the Bible has all the answers we need because selling is a battle for the hearts and minds of individuals, and the Bible is full of models for winning battles. For example, conventional wisdom believes that “selling is about telling,” but I believe the sale is made based on what the customer has to say, not on what the sales rep has to say. Therefore, it’s important to develop the skill set of asking strategic, purposeful questions. You can learn from Pharaoh (the world’s system), or you can learn from Moses, who outmaneuvered Pharaoh and his army without drawing a sword by simply listening to and obeying God.
Upon arriving at the border of the Promised Land, Moses sent out a reconnaissance team to spy out the land. He knew Israel would be met with resistance and risk, but if they were successful, there would be reward. Resistance, risk, and reward sounds a lot like business. So what are the seven questions Moses asked and how do they help us succeed in the marketplace? The Moses Questioning Strategy is an important skill set we’ll address in the next issue, but first you must be convinced of the importance of a good questioning strategy.
Did you know sales reps asking five or more questions in a selling situation close 72 percent more business than sales reps asking only two questions? That’s because selling is less about telling and more about listening. It’s a process of discovery you walk through with someone to help THEM arrive at the outcome that’s in THEIR best interest. In the process, the seller discovers the needs of the buyer while simultaneously helping the buyer clarify and crystallize his or her own understanding of those same needs. Only then can the seller truly help the buyer. Here are seven reasons to ask questions before planning your presentation.
Seven Reasons to Question
1. Questions develop rapport. People generally feel more comfortable when they’re talking. Asking questions gives them that opportunity. Rapport-building questions focus more on their interests than their specific business needs.
2. Questions build trust. Asking questions before presenting solutions demonstrates your interest in finding out what they want or need. When customers feel you are looking out for their best interests, they are more likely to trust you. Trust-building questions are more focused on their needs relative to your product or service.
3. Questions demonstrate that you care. When someone discloses a need or a problem to you, asking THEM how that problem impacts THEM is a good way to demonstrate that you care. You probably know the answer, but give the prospect the opportunity to vent THEIR feelings. It demonstrates a caring attitude and strengthens your bond with that person.
4. Questions reveal need. God asked Adam, “Where are you?” which quickly prompted Adam to reveal need: “I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10). Adam, however, only revealed what was obvious, his outer need for clothing or covering.
5. Questions develop need. God pressed Adam, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” Adam revealed deeper need when he said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” Adam’s answer now reveals his inner treasonous condition. In a single response, he leveled blame on God and on Eve. It was not just about having no clothes to wear; Adam’s need went much deeper to his sinful soul. When someone reveals a superficial need and you suspect a greater need, ask need-development questions to bring that need out in the open.
6. Questions reveal heart. God turns his focus on Eve and asks, “What is this you have done?” Please note that God knew the answer to all His questions, but asked them anyway. You should know the answer to most questions you ask, but ask them anyway to give the other person the opportunity to clarify the problem. Eve reveals her own heart by blaming the serpent instead of acknowledging any wrongdoing. It’s hard to fix a problem that isn’t out in the open yet.
7. Questions reveal motivation. When God had no respect for Cain’s offering, He asked Cain, “Why are you angry? If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:7). Cain’s motivation was at issue here as he offered what was convenient and at hand—produce. At best it was a faithless offering given out of duty instead of heartfelt worship. Abel offered the best, the firstborn of his flock, in faith, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous (Hebrews 11:4). Motivation questions usually begin with “Why?”
Asking the Best Questions
Having established the importance of asking questions, we now turn our attention to what makes a question a good question. Using the acronym SALT will help you remember four important components of good questions.
Simple. Good questions are clear, concise, and easy to understand. After the resurrection, Jesus was walking along the shore, saw the disciples fishing, and asked them, “Have you any food?” (John 21:5). In other words, have you caught anything yet? It was a simple question that went straight to the bottom line: “Is what you’re doing working?” Jesus asked a question to which He already knew the answer, but the answer gave Him the opportunity to reveal His solution: “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find.” When they saw the great number of fish caught in the net, they knew it was the Lord. Simple questions are bottom-line oriented and reveal need.
Aimed. Good questions have purpose. Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me [perfectly] more than these [other disciples do]?” (John 21:15). Just a few days earlier, after claiming that he loved Jesus more than the others, Peter three times denied even knowing Christ. Jesus had purpose in His question and Peter admitted that he didn’t have a perfect love for Christ when he answered, “Yes Lord; You know that I [imperfectly] love You.” Jesus said, “Feed My lambs.” Peter knew where the question was aimed and quickly admitted his love for Jesus was imperfect at best and in no way superior to the others. When a prospect feels the point or aim of your question, it implies you know the answer and the customer is more likely to be forthright with you.
Leading. Good questions give the prospect the sense that all of your questions are leading to a grand point. They make him feel like you’re taking him by the hand and leading him down a path you’ve been down before. Jesus asked Peter a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me [with a perfect love]?” Peter undoubtedly knew that Jesus was going somewhere with this question. In sales, leading questions are a series of questions working together to uncover need, reveal motivation, or expose the heart of the issue at hand. Jesus was leading Peter to acknowledge the limitations of his love, while giving him opportunity to look Him in the eye and expose the true state of his heart for the Lord.
Timely. Good questions meet the prospect where THEY’RE at in THEIR present situation with words THEY can relate and respond to. Jesus asked Peter a third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Jesus met Peter where he was by asking if his love was the phileo or brotherly kind of love. Later in his life, as he grew in his walk with the Lord, Peter would use the word agape, or perfect kind of love, in his writings. Once the need is on the table and the heart is open, meet your prospect where THEY ARE and bring THEM along incrementally to the desired destination.
Selling is less about telling and more about listening. You will be better prepared for listening now that you know the importance of a good questioning strategy and the four components of good questions. Stay tuned for the next issue, when we will uncover the seven questions Moses needed answered and how they apply to your sales practices.
Michael Pink is author of Selling Among the Wolves. For more on this resource check it out in our online store, Faith and Work Resources.com. Click on the link to the right of this page