Socrates tested this with his teaching method, which is now frequently used in schools and universities (and in sales!) worldwide: The Socratic Method.
The Socratic Method is when the teacher leads by posing thought-provoking questions. Then, students actively engage by asking questions of their own. This process causes the discussion to go back and forth. This discussion method allows people to come to their own answers. In business, this means asking questions so your customers can lead themselves to the best solution without feeling “sold.”
In this post, you’ll learn the power of questions and question types that can help you engage your customer and connect them with your solution.
The Power of Questions
Our brains can ignore what it deems to be irrelevant information, especially nowadays, when we’re constantly bombarded with it. The color of a person’s shirt, the billboards along the highway, the advertisements plastered all over an online news article—your brain has the uncanny ability to experience so much while comparatively retaining very little.
But questions are powerful. They force the brain to stand at attention, take a pause, and think. The brain cannot ignore a question.
In my team engagement training, I teach that asking a question is an easy way to re-engage in thoughtful conversation if a conversation is getting contentious. This brings the person being asked back in the driver’s seat, back to a place where they feel they have control.
Now, they have a choice as to how they want to answer the question.
It’s natural to get resistance if you’re telling someone how to do something or how to think. But, unfortunately, this is a big mistake people make in sales: they tell. Instead, when you ask (and ask the right questions, at that), you engage (rather than just talking “at” them) and allow people to make their own self-empowered decisions.
This not only feels better for everyone involved but will lead to more satisfied customers that rave about your product and see you as the hero for guiding them to it.
If you’re training a new team member, speaking to a supervisor, or dealing with a customer, questions engage and let you know where they stand. This is why questions are such an integral part of the UpSolutions recipe section titled “The Power of Observation.”
This is when you observe what you know about the customers and use that observation to ask the right probing questions to guide them.
Probing questions engage the brain and help guide your customer to the best solution for their needs. In addition, they provide you with information on what your customer needs. For example, when buying a television, here are some probing questions:
- How large is the room it’ll go in?
- What do you typically watch on television?
Now, it might seem these questions are too probing. It’s none of your business what I watch! Let me explain: The size of the room matters when considering the size of the television. Would you get a 12-inch television for a 500 square foot living room? Probably not! The distance between the couch, recliners, and entertainment stand and the room’s size does matter when considering TV size. That’s why question #1 is relevant. Question #2 is essential because specific screens and image quality are better suited for sports, action movies, gaming, reality TV shows, or the news.
By asking these questions, a store clerk can be the hero by helping their customer make an effective buying decision that they’re proud of. With experience, you can refine these probing questions to anticipate a customer’s needs.
TIP: The right probing questions are ones your team knows the customer needs to consider, but that the customer may not realize are relevant (because it’s not their area of expertise!).
These types of questions are when you’re asking something that warrants an answer beyond a one-word response like, “yes,” “no,” or even “good.”
See, the brain does still engage when asked a yes or no question. But it’s much easier to start a two-way conversation if your questions require more than that.
For example, imagine walking into a furniture store.
As you walk through the front doors, a salesperson at the entrance asks, “Welcome, how are you doing today?” If you’re like most, you might say, “good,” while hardly breaking stride. Perhaps you return the question and ask how they’re doing, and they respond similarly. Conversation over.
Now, imagine walking into the same store.
As you walk through the front doors, a salesperson at the entrance says, “Welcome! What brings you in today?” Now, this question forces a pause and thoughtful response, opening the door to a conversation with further questions to help you find what you need. For example, when you respond with “A couch” or “A bedframe,” the salesperson now has the opportunity to hone in her questions and guide you, the customer, to uncovering essential information leading to an effective buying decision. This not only saves you time but allows you to be guided by someone who knows what they’ve got that might suit your needs. Their next questions could be about the color, upholstery, and size, and before you know it, they’ll present you with the options they offer that meet your criteria. Win-win!
Harness the Power of Questions
The ability to ask the right questions is a skill that you build with experience and practice. Personally, it doesn’t come naturally, but I’m consciously aware and practicing as much as possible with my team and clients.
So, if in doubt, ask a question.
If you’re struggling, ask a question.
If a conversation feels like it’s stalling, ask a question.
To engage someone, ask a question.
And, finally, to be the hero, ask the right questions.
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