All Questions Are Not Created Equal

It’s important you have a strategy for customers’ questions that come your way.

By Julie Hansen

Questions are a sign of a healthy sales call or meeting. They typically indicate interest and create important opportunities to interact and gain insight into a prospect’s thinking.

Therefore, it’s not surprising most salespeople have a knee-jerk reaction to answer every question on the spot. But does every question require—or for that matter deserve—an immediate or full-blown answer?

What about questions which in answering may take you deep into the weeds, eat up precious time, or cause you to assume a defensive posture right off the bat? If you’re in front of a group, what about questions from people with conflicting agendas or ulterior motives? These are the types of things that can quickly derail your sales call or presentation—and along with it, the deal!

To be an effective salesperson, you must have a strategy for handling questions— or your prospect will determine one for you.

Keeping an open dialogue with potential customers is vital to a successful sales call. But you must balance that with the clock and the objectives for the meeting. To be an effective salesperson, you must have a strategy for handling questions—or your prospect will determine one for you.

Here are two strategies for effectively handling questions you may want to consider incorporating into your sales calls or presentations:

Strategy 1: Know your options

When you’re presented with a question from someone in a sales call or presentation, you have three basic choices:

  1. Answer it right away.
  2. Park it to address later at the end of your call or meeting (or during a relevant topic).
  3. Defer it for a separate call or meeting.

Knowing how and when you’re going to answer a question can mean the difference between a sale moving forward or one coming to a dead stop.

Strategy 2: Evaluate your approach

The following five considerations can help you evaluate questions and determine when and how to answer them.

Who is asking?

A presentation or meeting is rarely a democracy. If you’re in a group situation at a business office, consider who asked the question. If it’s the highest-ranking person in the room or someone with a “C” or a “V” in their title, you’ll of course want to answer the question right away. For all others, use the following points to determine when to best address them.

How relevant is it?

If the question furthers discussion on the topic you’re on, or adds insight or value to your audience, then answering it right away makes sense. If it’s off the topic or of interest only to a small percentage of your group, stop. Consider offering to discuss it after the close of your meeting or at a later time. Those who aren’t interested will appreciate it and you’ll have fewer people tuning out.

How complicated is it?

Multi-part questions or highly technical questions have the potential to take you down a rabbit hole you may never crawl out of. Unless you are doing a deep-dive presentation or demo or the majority of your audience is comprised of technical people, it’s best to park it and cover it later during the meeting (if time allows), or as mentioned above, after the meeting in a separate call or deeper discussion on that topic.

Here’s a good tip for you. Listen carefully to the question. Does it require a full answer or will “yes” or “no” suffice? Don’t over-complicate an answer. There is nothing wrong with being short and to the point. High-ranking people in particular appreciate a concise answer.

How much time will it take to answer?

If you can answer the question in under 40 seconds, it’s probably best to do so immediately. If it’s going to take longer than that or lead to a number of follow-up questions, consider parking it for later or ask permission to address the question at some later time.

Is there an alternative agenda?

Most salespeople have at one time or another had someone in a meeting who appears to have an ulterior motive when they ask a question. Perhaps they are against the project or proposed change, have a relationship with another vendor, or feel threatened. Whatever the reason, questions from these individuals tend to be antagonistic and designed to trip you up or make you look bad. So how do you handle them?

Rather than get into a potential showdown with the person, respectfully tell them you’d like to get through your agenda and address their specific question later (preferably one-on-one) when you “have enough time to give it the full answer it deserves.” If you handle detractors early in your meeting, they are likely to lose steam and interest in trying to foul you up.

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Ultimately, you want to welcome questions in a sales call or presentation, but you can ensure your success by having a strategy in place for handling them. Know in advance what types of questions to answer and when. That will allow you to successfully balance objectives with audience needs and make the most of each meeting or call with a customer.

And that there is a winning strategy!


Julie Hansen is a professional sales trainer, speaker, and author. She authored the book ACT Like a Sales Pro in 2011 and has been featured in Selling Power, Entrepreneur, and Sales and Service Excellence magazines. She can be reached at julie@actingforsales.com and www.actingforsales.com

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