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Why you need to have deeper conversations to land more sales



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By Darren Fleming

There are two ways to increase your sales. The first is to get more customers. While this is always desirable it is not without a cost. The second and more profitable way is to sell more to your current customers. In retail, the hardest part can be getting the customer to walk through your doors. When they are in your store, the deeper the conversation you have with them the more you can sell to them. The depth of the conversation you can have with your customer depends on the quality of the questions you ask. Great questions get great answers; bad questions get useless ones. While this seems obvious, there are some factors that stop clever staff from asking the right questions.

The Curse of Knowledge

Greats sales people often identify the solution a customer needs well before they have finished articulating their problems. In an effort to be helpful, they quickly offer their solution so the customer can buy and they can help someone else. While this seems like a great way to save everyone’s time, it has a number of hidden drawbacks. These problems include:

Assumptions– getting to the solution before the customer has articulated their problem relies on assumptions – and we all know the problem with them!

Blocking – If the customer can’t explain their situation they are blocked from creating a connection to you or your brand.

When we explain our situation to someone we are investing in them and creating a connection. This builds trust. When I know that you know my issues I’m more likely to feel confident that you can help me. We see the opposite of this every time we call a call-centre. Having to explain our situation to every new person tells us that we don’t have a connection and frustration builds.

Cookie-cutter-service– If the customer feels that your relying on assumptions about their issues and they’re not feeling a connection there is a great chance they wont trust your solution. It will feel like you’re a doctor who just wants to push a pill and move on.

Missed Opportunities – finally – and more immediately – it misses the opportunity for additional sales. When a customer is telling you the problems they have, it is a sales person’s duty to identify all the opportunities to sell them a solution. When the customer is denied the opportunity to tell their story you are denied the opportunity to sell into it.

But there is a way around it. Ask better questions.

Better Questions.

Asking better questions is about playing detective and letting the customer tell you want they know. It’s not about leading the witness, but drawing out information. Use Open-ended questions so they can tell you want they need and use closed questions to clarify.

Open-ended Questions

Open-ended questions are questions that invite a long answer – they cannot be answered with just one word. The open-ended questions are the classic 6-W’s – Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. These questions invite an extended answer which gives you information to sell on. Use open ended questions at the start of a sales conversation. Use closed questions for clarification and closing.

Closed Questions

The opposite to open-ended questions, closed questions invite a yes/no response. The most well known closed question in the retail world is, “Would you like fries with that?” Closed questions are great at the end of the sales conversation to ask for the sale.

When you lead a sales conversation with open-eded questions, the customer invests in you and your solution. You can then use the information they have shared with you to suggest other items that can help them over come additional problems they will have. Sales people should be judged on the quality of questions they ask, not the answers they give. This will lead to deeper conversations and more sales.


Darren Fleming is a speaker, author and trainer who specialises in helping sales people increase their sales and grow their margins.

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