By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
Questions are invaluable assets for merchant level salespeople (MLSs). Properly framed questions can capture the essence of a problem or help close a sale. Whether they bubble up spontaneously or are carefully planned, good questions have common characteristics, according to Paul Cherry, author of Questions that Sell: The Powerful Process for Discovering What Your Customer Really Wants.
Competing in today's hypercompetitive marketplace requires more than product knowledge, Cherry noted. Salespeople need empathy, which is demonstrated in the questions they ask prospects. If they don't ask the right questions, they won't close the sale, he stated. "For too many years, so-called sales experts have been preaching the values of relationships without defining them," Cherry wrote. "Most have argued that salespeople need only to 'build rapport, honesty, and trust' in order to further their business ends. These are the characteristics of a friendship, though, and they do not necessarily build a successful sales relationship."
Cherry noted that customers are not in business to make friends with service providers. They want substantive relationships that produce measurable results. They will choose providers that recognize their challenges and understand their businesses and take a proactive approach by helping them identify issues that were not even on their radar, he explained.
"Questions do more than transfer knowledge — they open new possibilities by enabling people to step back and discover something that they hadn't previously thought about as they consider the question," Cherry wrote. He also pointed out that good questions can help prospective customers recognize and understand their problems, a prerequisite for accepting their need for assistance, and customers who feels understood will be more likely to share information.
It's also time to lose cheesy sales tactics that were popular in the 1990s, such as "tie-downs," "choice not chance" and "leading questions," Cherry noted, adding that these techniques aren't effective in today's customer-centric environment; they limit the opportunity to build meaningful partnerships that last. Following are several examples:
Leslie Stretch, CEO at Medallia Inc., a cloud-based experience management company, observed that the customer journey had been radically changing, even before the global coronavirus pandemic. In his keynote address at Medallia's Experience '20 virtual summit, he urged attendees to stay connected to customers, employees and citizens. Digital technologies help individuals and organizations stay connected but are only as effective as their messages, Stretch noted. Empathy matters today more than ever.
Cherry's revised edition of Questions that Sell recommends the following for sparking impactful customer conversations:
"Intimate connections to customers matter more than ever before," Stretch said. "Video, Voice, Messaging and Ideation forge and perpetuate the deep connections necessary to thrive in the future."
Dale S. Laszig, senior staff writer at The Green Sheet and managing director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content development specialist. She can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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