How to Get Customers to Tell You What They Want

by Mark Hunter

Nothing is more frustrating to a salesperson than a customer who answers all your questions with "I don't know." Instead of having to guess at what the their needs are when you don't have enough information, try this technique to get your customers to open up.

get customers talking
Image source: BigStockPhoto.com

There's no better way to improve the quality of information you receive from a potential customer than by asking short questions. We all can recall far too many times when we've sat across the table from a customer we're trying to help -- and we know we can help -- if they would just provide us information about their needs and goals.

The problem is that no matter what question we ask, we get the same response: a big fat "I don't know" (or something along that line). Then, almost without thinking, we put on our super salesperson cape and start telling the person everything they need. Unfortunately, when it comes to agreeing to the sale, the person turns cold.

Our problem in dealing with this type of customer is we need to find a better way to engage them and to get them to think about what they want and need -- and then share that information with us.

The answer to this dilemma? Short questions. I believe that short questions get you long answers (while long questions get you short answers). What too often happens is we are talking to a customer and asking them what we believe are simple questions, but in reality, those questions are simple only to us. To someone unfamiliar with our product and services, the questions are complex.

For example, we ask a question that has a couple of facts wrapped up in it. As a result, it winds up being more of a statement for which we are simply looking for feedback or agreement. No wonder customers can give us the cold shoulder and the blank stare.



What we want to do is ask short questions. In their simplest form, they are questions like "why" and "how." Or possibly they look like this: Could you give me an example? Could you explain that again to me?

The shorter the question, the more likely we are to get a long answer. The next step is to ask them another short question, following up on what they just said. The beauty about this is it allows the customer to do all the talking. By doing the talking, they'll tell you their needs and desired benefits. They'll tell you their goals and will reveal a level of information you need to determine how to best serve them.

When using the short question approach, there are only two things you need to remember.

First, ask the customer a soft easy question to which you know they'll respond. Then after they have given you a response, continue with the short questioning approach by asking, "Could you give me another example?" You then pause and allow the client to give you more information, upon which you follow up again with another short question such as, "How?" or "Why?" Basically, you want to do whatever you can to get them talking more.

The second rule to remember is to not keep asking the same short questions. If you do, you'll come across as an inquisitive 3-year-old rather than the professional salesperson you know you are. You can avoid this best by picking up on a single item they shared with you and drilling down on just that one item.

When you drill down on a single item, you demonstrate your listening skills and your ability to truly discern information. The beauty of this approach is when it works, the customer will many times share with you exactly what they want and will begin asking you questions about features and benefits.

Short questions get you long answers. Long questions get you short answers. It is up to you as to the approach you want to take, but if you want to actually learn something about the customer's needs, you will get there quicker by asking short questions.

Mark Hunter, © 2011

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Mark Hunter, 'The Sales Hunter,' helps individuals and companies identify better prospects, close more sales and profitably build more long-term customer relationships. Since 1998, he has consulted nationally and internationally with thousands of salespeople and global companies. You can follow his Sales Motivation Blog at www.TheSalesHunter.com.

 
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