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Improve your sales by knowing how and when to ask questions

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MOST SALESPEOPLE talk too much. The Master Seller knows how and when to ask questions.  

Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions help customers engage. Many sellers “feed” the answer in the question, which leads to monosyllabic, non-engaged answers. Example:

Salesperson: You’re probably using southern yellow pine, right?

Customer: Yes.

Salesperson: Do you use random lengths or straight lengths?

Customer: Random.

Versus “open-ended”:

Salesperson: What species do you use?

Customer: We mostly use southern yellow pine in 2x8 – 2x12, but we use spruce in our 2x4 and 2x6 and our studs.

One Question at a Time

Another mistake is asking multiple questions in a row. This can be confusing to the customer and breaks rapport. Example:

Salesperson: How do you normally buy your lumber? Do you put out an RFQ or do you buy off offerings or do you do it after you do your inventory?

Better: How do you normally buy your lumber?

Simple, open-ended questions are better. Customers are more likely to give us a more detailed answer when we give them room to do so. “Fed” and multiple questions lead to short and non-detailed answers. Conversation will flow more when we give our customers space to elaborate.

Questions on Inquiry

Many sellers are in such a hurry to quote product that they don’t take a thorough inquiry. When we don’t take a thorough inquiry, we send the message “I’m just here for a quick order” which is easy to say no to. In addition, when we don’t ask enough questions, we often come back with the wrong item because we missed the nuance of what the customer wants. Example:

Customer: I’m looking for a 2x4 random.

Salesperson: Okay, let’s go look for that and I’ll get back to you with a quote.


Customer: I’m looking for a 2x4 random.

Master Seller: When you say random, what kind of tally are we thinking?

Customer: 8 through 16, heavy 16.

Master Seller: When you say heavy 18, how heavy are we needing?

Customer: About 75% 16.

Master Seller: What would the rest of the tally look like?

Customer: Maximum one 8 and 10 foot, three to four 12s, and maximum two 14s.

Master Seller: What grade are we needing?

Customer: Euro premium.

Master Seller: Could we use a highline western or eastern spruce?  

This extra question gives the seller more options to provide more value to the customer and more options to get the order.

Customer: I could use a highline western out of ABC or XYZ Sawmill.

Master Seller: When do we need it to ship?

Customer: Two weeks or sooner.

Master Seller: Could we live with three weeks?  

Again, this gives the seller more options to bring value. There may only be two mills that can do two weeks shipment and there may be 10 mills that can do it for three.

Customer: Yes, I can live with three weeks.

Master Seller: What are we thinking of paying on this? 

Most sellers are too intimidated to ask this question because a lot of buyers won’t answer it. Master Sellers make price just another detail to be discussed between partners. They train customers to be open with them. It will take more time to get some customers to treat us like a partner, and some never will, but we must try with all of them, and most will over time. If the customer is thinking of an unreasonable price it is better to discuss early rather than doing a bunch of work and finding out later.

Asking for the Order

Somewhere between 80% and 90% of sellers fail to ask for the order. Most sellers present product and then wait silently for the customer to buy or give the price and ask, “What do you think of that?” The problem with both of these methods is that they work.  They just don’t work as well as asking simply and directly for the order.

Master Sellers tell the customer why what they are offering is a good deal and then ask, “Can I earn your business on this?” There are many ways to ask for the order but asking is a must for success in sales.