You Know You Should Use Questions, Don't You?

July 1, 2007
A salesperson's two best friends are: 1. Questions. 2. Silence. They're both equally good friends. The late Tom McCart used to say, "The questions are

A salesperson's two best friends are:
1. Questions.
2. Silence.

They're both equally good friends. The late Tom McCart used to say, "The questions are the answer."

The better you are at asking questions, the better your salesmanship.

Why use questions?

• Questions get your prospects used to making decisions and procure small commitments. Remember, a sale is a series of small commitments made one at a time.
• Questions give your prospects the opportunity to explore their own belief systems. Remember, it's their belief systems that count, not yours.
• Questions give your prospects the opportunity to express themselves and participate. Remember, one of the most pleasant sounds to your prospects' ears is the sound of their own voice.
• Questions steer your prospects to the right conclusions. Remember, if you say it, they may doubt it; if they say it, it's true.
• Questions keep your prospects' interest and attention by challenging them mentally. Remember, they'll day-dream on you every chance they get.
• Questions provide the salesperson with information. Remember, you don't sell by giving information, you sell by gaining information.
• Questions give the salesperson control of the situation. Remember, you must maintain control of the call in order to be successful. The use of questions is where you can tell a true sales professional from a wannabe.
• Questions give your prospects the opportunity to sell themselves. That's ultimately what has to happen, isn't it?

Using Questions
When you do your inspection of the prospect's existing installation, you need to be able to point out any negative conditions without appearing to look for problems, or appearing too pushy.

It's a good place to subtly make the point that the installation of the equipment is, by far, the most significant factor in the customer's final satisfaction with the product.

Conveying this information works much better when the homeowners are the ones to arrive at this conclusion than it does if you tell them.

Before you can influence your prospects' belief systems, you need to know what their belief systems are — what they know about their heating/cooling system, and how they feel about it.

You can accomplish that with the use of questions.

Do customers want any speeches?

Are you going to sell a customer by educating the customer?

How long did it take you to learn HVAC? Years? Decades, maybe?

How can you educate the customers enough to make the correct decision in a manner of three or four sentences, three or four minutes, or even three or four hours?

They're going to pretty much look you in the eye and base their decision on their opinion of you, your competency, and your honesty, aren't they?

Is it possible that you can convey as much information with questions as you can with long monologues?

How many questions have I just asked you in a row?

Haven't I just conveyed information?

Can you see the benefit to practicing asking questions?

Keeps the customer involved, doesn't it? Do you think you ought to practice asking questions?

You do know how to make a statement into a question, don't you?

I just did, didn't I?

It's easy, isn't it?

Do you believe you can master the art of asking questions?

Sample Questions
Kneel at the furnace. That leaves the customer standing above you, unless he or she kneels with you, putting them in a "psychologically dominant" position (yet another way to demonstrate non-verbally how non-aggressive I am).

Point out a condition and ask something, In any conversation, who's in control — the one asking the questions or the one providing the answers? It's the one who's asking the questions.such as, "What do you think of that?" or "Does that look good to you?" Then, check their reaction.

It's important that nothing be said to try to scare your prospects, or that could be misconstrued as a high-pressure sales tactic.

Here are sample questions. Always make certain the questions you ask are not demeaning, and that the conversation doesn't turn into an interrogation. Bear in mind that these questions are not just asked all in a row with no response from the customer. I'm just showing part of your side of the conversation.

Using your flashlight as a pointer, shine it inside and ask:
• See that rust in there?
• Do you think that rust is good?
• Did you know it looked like that?
• How does water get in there?
• Did you know that water is one of the by-products of the combustion process?
• Do you know where that rust comes from?
• Do you figure it's coming from the heat exchanger?
• Would that tell you that the heat exchanger is getting thicker or thinner?
• Do you know the purpose of the heat exchanger?
• Do you know the consequences of a failed heat exchanger?

Can you see how these questions would lead the prospect to the conclusion that a severely rusted heat exchanger is a potentially hazardous condition? At the same time, is there any way anyone could accuse me of using high-pressure sales tactics when they're the one that came up with that conclusion?

Answering Questions
In any conversation, who's in control — the one asking the questions or the one providing the answers? It's the one who's asking the questions. That's why cops hate answering questions and say, "We'll ask the questions here."

That's also why a good salesman answers a question with a question. Just don't do it like a smart aleck.

Be careful when the prospect comes up with too many questions. Too many questions, even from engineers, are an indication that you haven't gained the prospect's complete confidence yet.

Technical answers to technical questions can often lose sales.

Rarely is the inquirer of a technical question satisfied with answers. Their tactic is to "technical you to death." It almost seems the purpose of a technical question is to find a reason not to buy without offending you. After all, it's nothing personal if they can't buy from you because your condenser fan motor has a sleeve bearing and they'd really wanted a ball bearing.

One of the hardest things to teach salespeople is that you don't have to answer all of the prospect's questions. Sometimes it's good not to have all the answers. I remember when I first started in this business, people would regularly say to me, "Well, young man, you've certainly got all the answers."

I'd think to myself, "Yeah, except for ‘why aren't you buying?'"

It's good not to have all the answers. Next time prospects start asking too many questions, try writing down their question and say, "I'll check it out for you."

If that doesn't work, say, "I've got something out in my car on that."

By having to go out to your car to retrieve support material on everything they ask about, you:
1. Eliminate unnecessary questions after the third trip out to the car,
2. Get a chance to be alone to organize your thoughts and ask yourself, "What is going wrong here?"
3. Give the prospect more opportunities to talk about you behind your back,
4. Show evidence to support your recommendations, and
5. Provide opportunities for you to meet the prospect three or more times per call.

Another way to handle technical questions is to slowly repeat the question back to them.

Before answering any questions, take a pause to ask yourself how you can turn your answer into a question.

Practice asking questions to lead them to conclusions, maintain control of your calls, gain and convey information, and you'll make more sales than ever before.

Charlie Greer is an award-winning HVAC salesman, a service technician, and the creator of "Tec Daddy's Service Technician Survival School on DVD." For information on Charlie's Sales Survival Schools, products, and speaking schedule, call 800/963-4822, e-mail [email protected], or go to