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Understand your Audience

How Can You Improve Your Sales? Ask These Questions

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If there’s one key learning that will improve your sales conversations, it is this:

Sales is an iceberg, not a mountain

Too often, presentations focus on the product and the outcome, as if that all-important meeting were a mountain that the presenter has to climb. We’ve all been there! You’re walking into the room thinking, “If I can make a good impression, get to my talking points, and put a time frame on it, I will be able to close the deal.”

Keeping your audience engaged is fine, but you need to guide them through your sales journey. Selling anything, whether in B2B or B2C, is about understanding what your customer is looking for. Research shows that the biggest motivator in any purchase, after price, is an emotional one.


So why is sales like an iceberg?

Because you have to discover what is important to your customer, and look for what lies beneath the surface of your customer’s reason to buy.

To discern this, you need to ask open-ended questions. There is a wealth of professional advice that illustrates the necessity of building rapport through being an active listener. The trick then is not just understanding which sales questions to ask, but to also listen to their answers to fully comprehend what it is your customer actually wants, or might need, from you – and thereby personalise the information you present.


The 5 Key Questions to Drive Sales

There are five key questions to driving any sales presentation, but it is critical to remember that these aren’t necessarily word-for-word what you need to ask. The purpose of each question is to lead us towards an understanding of the customer’s key motivator. We need to investigate the problem (their reason for buying) before we can offer our solution (our product or service).

1) What is the outcome you’re looking to achieve?

As you plan your presentation, make sure you leave room at the very beginning for the most obvious question of all – are we on the same page? Accurate and timely information is key to your success in selling, so establishing your customer’s needs upfront are vital. Even if this presentation is not your first interaction, have the goalposts shifted since your last conversation? Take the time to check.

Did you know the words motivation and emotion both come from the Latin word movere which means, “to move”? If we are going to motivate our buyers, we need to understand what is moving them.

It can be helpful to think of a sales conversation as a funnel, with broad questions at the top and specific ones at the bottom. The goal is to understand the customer’s logical and emotional needs. Demonstrate to the customer you are interested in their situation, in order to build rapport and earn the right to offer a solution.

2) What’s most important to you?

Once you have established the intended outcome, give some room to understand how the customer perceives their current need. What are the must-haves, should-haves and could-haves? What will be the impact of letting this opportunity go by? Allow your buyer to create their own sense of urgency. The adage about leading horses to water still applies. Allow the customer to represent their own interest because a spoken desire is a more powerful motivator than an internalised one.

This is where the real power of artful questioning lies. If the customer expresses their own motivation, they are much more likely to act on it – they’ve already internalised their reasons for why and what into the narrative that guides their behaviour. Tapping into the ideas they’ve claimed their own is crucial for creating momentum in the sales process.

3) What are you willing to commit to trying?

Many sales presentations fall flat because they ignore this universal psychological bias: people fear the unknown. Harvard Business School professor John T. Gourville calls this the “9x Effect.

According to Gourville, “It’s not enough for a new product simply to be better. Unless the gains far outweigh the losses, customers will not adopt it.”

As the sales representative, allow your buyer to commit to the unknown – once they have done that, your sales opportunity becomes part of their solution. Try to create a before-and-after ‘bridge’, a model that shows before (here’s your world), after (here’s what it will be like) and be the bridge between the two.

4) How do you see yourself/business growing moving forward?

Ask someone what they did on the weekend and you will often see their eyes light up as they attempt to remember where they were or what they might have done. That’s no coincidence – it’s called LEM (Lateral Eye Movement) and is a strong indicator that the person you’re speaking to is thinking and responding to your questions.

One of the best ways to encourage a deeper response from your buyer is to ask aspirational questions. If your customer is interested in talking about their business, instigate opportunities for them to talk about their own business, their passions and interests! It’s just another way to associate your product with their sales journey.

5) When are you looking to get this in place?

As we near the end of our discovery funnel, it’s time to get specific. Most customers expect you to ask for their business if you have spent quality time with them, or have developed and presented a comprehensive solution to their needs. After all your hard work, you must have the courage to ask. Success rests with being able to get a commitment from the customer to the next steps or doing business on the spot.

Remember: the one golden rule of closing is to ask –

if you don’t ask, you won’t know


And finally

At the end of the day, insightful questions will only lead you so far. Every productive sales conversation relies on nailing these three essentials:

1) Be an active listener

Most of the time we listen for a reason. We listen to respond, to agree or disagree, or to prove a point. In order to stay focused on the customer, it is necessary to discern what the customer really wants. You need to make a conscious attempt to empathise with your buyer in order for them to express what they need from you.

2) Avoid interrogation

When you’re interacting with your customer, try to ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no. You want to generate and guide discussion, not scrutinise your potential buyer like a legal defence. While there is a time for yes and no questions, try to include them at the end of your funnel, after you’ve already established the dialogue.

3) Use emotional language

Studies show that happiness is not just contagious, but more memorable – meaning the impact of your presentation is far more likely to be remembered if you’re speaking in a positive, outgoing way. People may use facts and figures to decide on the right course of action, but they record the world through their feelings and experiences. You will stand out if you use an upbeat, friendly register and relate to them directly.


Over to you

It may take some time to internalise these key principles. When it comes to selling, there’s no easy way. We recommend doing your homework and soaking up insights from other sales minds that have had to find their own way.

By applying a principle of active listening to your sales presentations, you will soon find you are doing less work and selling more. Your audience will be eager to explain their problems and your role will be to help them.

Keep in mind the iceberg – find that hidden motivator and you’re 90% of the way there.

What are your tips for driving the sales conversation forward through smarter presenting?


If you liked this, you might also like:

Earning the right to ask questions: The Purpose of the Pitch

It’s not about your product; it’s about listening to your customer’s need: How to Close a Sale

The true nature of being a good presenter isn’t in what they say, but in how they actively listen: How to Be an Effective Presenter Through Better Listening

Are you Using the Best Tools for your Sales Situation?

Andy Twomey
Andy is the Founder of a Sydney-based inbound marketing agency. He enjoys helping businesses create meaningful marketing. From content to search, it's all in the detail. Long days, lots of coffee and endless (very passionate) conversations about marketing, sales and business keep this Queenslander lining up for more.
Andy Twomey
Andy Twomey

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