7 Rules for Great Sales Questions

Last Updated Jul 20, 2009 6:22 PM EDT

All sales questions are not created equal. Good questions give you information to help you move the sale forward. Lousy questions simply annoy the prospect and (worst case) can kill the sale entirely.

Here are the 7 rules for asking great sales questions, with some quick examples:

  • Rule #1: They flatter the prospect's ego without seeming smarmy. Bad: "Where you did you buy that elegant suit?" Better: "How did you learn so much about this industry so quickly?"
  • Rule #2: They show respect for the prospect's unique knowledge. Bad: "What's the reporting structure of your department?" Better: "What was the thinking behind your organizational structure?"
  • Rule #3: They don't sound like a question from a job interview. Bad: "Where did you work before you came here?" Better: "How have you been able to use your experience here?"
  • Rule #4: They provide an opportunity for the prospect to expound. Bad: "Do you have a budget?" Better: "What's the process for securing a budget for this type of product?"
  • Rule #5: They provide a change of pace from the prospect's day-to-day routine. Bad: "What are your responsibilities in the organization." Better: "What do you enjoy most about working here?"
  • Rule #6: They provide a smooth launch pad into the next topic. Bad: "Are my competitors calling on you?" Better: "Can you step me through your decision-making process?"
  • Rule #7: They build on something the contact just said. Bad: "Not to change the subject, but are you interested?" Better: "Based on what you've said, how can we best work together?"
The above is loosely based on a conversation with Mark Shonka and Dan Kosch, co-authors of "Beyond Selling Value - A Proven Process to Avoid the Vendor Trap."