The Fine Line Between Being Inquisitive, and Becoming an Interrogator

In sales, there’s a fine line between simply being inquisitive, and
conducting an interrogation. The consequences of stepping over this
line could cost you the sale, lose you business or – worse yet – lose
you a loyal customer for life.

Remember: as sales people, we’re looking for information we can use
to help our clients – not a confession. So why do so many sales professionals
treat their prospects like criminal suspects, rather than valuable
business partners?

The key to staying on the right side of this line lies in the questions
you ask, and especially how you ask them. The following 5 Tips
will help you make sure you’re perceived as being helpfully inquisitive
rather than an uncompromising interrogator, and help you improve your
delivery when it comes to asking those all-important sales questions:

1. Pause and listen.
Let’s be honest – do you really listen to what your customers
have to say, or are you just catching your breath between questions?
If that sounds a little too familiar, try counting silently to three
(at a regular speaking pace!) every time your prospect finishes talking.
This will give them enough time to gather their thoughts and continue
what they were saying if they haven’t finished, while also not being
a long enough pause to seem awkward if they are done talking, and
are simply waiting for your response.

2. Support what they tell you only when you mean it.
Before you ask your next question, make sure to thank your prospect
for the information they already provided in response to your previous
one. It’s not always easy for a prospect to open up, especially
in the early stages of your relationship. If they have been generous
with their information, thank them for being open. If they ask a great
question, thank them for it. But while this approach can yield great
results, don’t ever fake a compliment or expression of gratitude.
If you don’t truly believe what you are telling and thanking your
prospects for, then believe me – you won’t be fooling anyone but yourself.

3. Take notes and ask for clarification.
To make sure you remember the details as well as the substance of
what a customer is telling you, take notes, and ask for clarification
any time they say something you don’t fully understand. Remember,
in sales, your best friends are "why," "how" and
"what." Use them often to get additional information from
your customers – and then don’t forget to document their answers!

4. Echo and paraphrase.
They say that you never really understand something until you have
to teach it to someone else. To be certain you really understand what
a customer is telling you, repeat it back to them, using your own
words and interpretation. Then end with a question, to gain their
confirmation that your understanding is correct.

5. Watch your tone!
I never cease to be amazed at how many professional sales people ask
questions of even their biggest clients or most promising prospects
in a tone that sounds aggressive, accusatory or downright belligerent.
If you’ve ever gotten the sense that you’re coming on a little too
strong, practice asking a colleague questions to determine whether
you sound inquisitive or interrogational. If this isn’t an option,
take your manager with you on a call, and ask them for their constructive,
honest feedback. 93% of the way prospects react to your questions
will be based not on what you ask, but on the way you ask them. Finding
out how you really sound could make the difference between being an
average performer, and skyrocketing to the top of your profession.

Experts agree that the most successful sales people listen 70% of
the time, and talk only 30%. With the tips in this and our previous
two articles in this series (The
Fine Line Between Being Honest, And Being Brutal
and Don’t
Get Angry – Get Results
), you now have the tools to get the information
you need from your prospects, create an open dialogue – and start
building long-term profitable relationships with your customers.