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Questioning Skills- Part 2: It’s Time For The Facts and Figures

Last week’s blog discussed “needs-clarification questions;” they probe a client’s situation and needs in an intentionally vague, open-ended and non-directive manner. Examples: “What are this project’s key issues?” “Why is that approach (un)attractive?” “How are economic pressures impacting your business?” Questions like these seek the client’s subjective needs, attitudes, opinions and speculations. This week, we’ll ‘drop the other shoe’ by adding “transactional questions” into the Q & A mix; they probe the information, facts, specifications and conditions which define the project and the scope of the consultative salesperson’s subsequent response.

 Make no mistake: transactional questions are the bedrock, nuts-and-bolts of “doing the deal.” No meaningful work can be accomplished unless the specs, deadlines, budgets, etc. of the project are known fully and accurately. These questions are usually closed, i.e., they can be answered with a “yes” or “no” or an established fact; they’re typically objective, specific, detailed and focused. Their signature: they have ‘right answers;’ as the saying goes, “You could look it up.” 

  • Examples include: “What are the mandatory terms and requirements?” “When are the various deadlines?” “Is there a specified budget?” “Which provider(s) have you worked with previously?” “How did you do this last time?” 

Transactional questions are very much within the salesperson’s comfort zone— they’re tangible; they can be constructed to connect directly to his/her product or service; they’re easy to ask and the answers are (usually) easy to understand. Given all that, they can project the illusion of providing everything you need to create a successful program for your client. 

Comparing and contrasting transactional and needs-clarification questions: 

  • Taken alone, transactional questions result in knowledge— the specific, detailed, factual knowledge that enables the salesperson to develop solutions that (presumably) meet the client’s stated objectives and needs. If the salesperson brings only this to the party, he/she is a (perhaps excellent) implementer and technician, but not a strategic consultant. The risk: producing a superficially, mechanically designed and applied program that’s off-target and fails to get the job done.
  • Taken alone, needs-clarification questions result in understanding— the conceptual understanding that enables the salesperson to uncover latent needs, provide strategic analysis and suggest future directions. If the salesperson brings only this to the party, he/she can be a “trusted advisor,” but is not a provider of tangible programs and solutions. The risk: all that understanding and good advice doesn’t actually sell anything. 

Clearly, what’s needed here is a skillfully woven combination of both kinds of questions, where knowledge and understanding will produce winning strategies and solutions. Next week’s Baron Group blog will illustrate the process and technique of asking integrated, synergistic transactional and needs-clarification questions in a supportive, productive client dialog.

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