We all know that if questions can be answered with yes or no, they are unlikely to spark engaging conversations. This can be detrimental to social interactions and thus impinge on the ability to foster good relationships and enjoy life. For merchant level salespeople, the inability to ask high-value questions can also be deadly for business, because they will be unable to get merchants to open up and reveal their genuine pain points and needs.
MediaCollege.com is one of many sources that extol the virtues of open-ended questions. "An open-ended question is designed to encourage a full, meaningful answer using the subject's own knowledge and/or feelings," the website states. "It is the opposite of a closed-ended question, which encourages a short or single-word answer."
Some examples of open-ended versus closed-ended questions include:
If you inadvertently ask a closed-ended question, don't get flustered when faced with a one-word answer. The sale isn't lost. Just ask an open-ended follow-up question. Also, when devising questions, it's important to consider the specific situation of the merchant you are interacting with and avoid asking about things that are too general.
"Asking vague questions allows your prospect to think that you have all the time in the world to listen to their business problems," Paul H. Green wrote in Good Selling!TM: The Basics. "It also leads to generalizations, not the specifics you can use to lead the prospect to the buying decision."
One way to minimize the chance of asking generic questions is to research the merchant prospect before your meeting. Then devise a short list of questions in advance. Even if you don't end up using the prepared questions once your conversation gets rolling, the advance preparation will pay off in your ability to establish rapport and to think on your feet.
Green added that questions should be formulated to help prospects focus on the benefits you have to offer. If you think it's a tall order to get merchants to open up while also focusing on the benefits of your products and services, you're right.
So, take it one step at a time. Focus first on questions that will spur conversation and establish good rapport. Then move on to questions that address possible pain points prospects might be experiencing without your services. "After you listen to your prospect's answers to these questions, you will be able to highlight your service's benefits," Green wrote, adding that the "value of what you have to offer will be tangible to your prospect as you focus in on the business benefits you have available."
And now a question for you: What can you do to ensure you ask high-value questions next time you speak with a merchant?
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