Are You Teaching Your Sales Team to See Prospects’ Questions as Opportunities?

Discover how social selling can equip your sales team to answer prospects’ questions with examples, anecdotes, and useful redirection.

April 22, 2015


We've been told about the importance of asking good questions throughout our sales careers. Back in the phone days, the answers we were taught were usually canned answers to common objections we might experience at the outset of the call.

Even in the age of social selling, there’s a tendency to view questions as obstacles to overcome before we can regain control of the conversation.

Sales expert Tibor Shanto has a different take on the role of answering prospect questions, though. He recently offered the following insight on his blog:

"The better you get at asking questions that get the prospect to think, the more likely that they will ask you questions, sincere questions about the possibilities, not product related, and you need to be ready. This is more than just good listening, it is about continuing to drive the conversation in the way you answer questions."

A prospect’s questions can be an opportunity for the sales professional to continue to steer the conversation. Here are some concepts to focus on when training your sales team how to become more strategic with their answers:

Treat prospect questions as opportunities, not interruptions

Imagine that a widget sales professional is making a sales pitch. The prospect asks, “How many widgets does your biggest widget holster hold?” There are two ways the sales pro can respond:

  1. “Our biggest widget holster holds seven widgets, the most in its class. Now, [and back to the pitch]”.
  1. “Well, Gizmonics Institute recently bought our biggest holster—that one holds seven widgets—and their supply manager, Joel, told me it lasts for days before they need to refill it. He said they’ve cut widget-refill time by 80%. But not everyone needs that much widget capacity; I saw in my research that you’re going through five widgets a week. Is that right?”

In the first example, the rep treated the question as an interruption to be addressed and dismissed. In the second, the sales pro used the question as an opportunity to take the conversation deeper. Here’s how your team can create an answer that further opens up the discussion:

Include an anecdote or testimonial

Testimonials and customer anecdotes are a great way to add credibility to the claims your reps are making about the product. What’s more, an anecdote like the one above helps the prospect imagine what life would be like with the product. Instead of a simple number—the widget holster holds seven widgets—the prospect is thinking about how Joel at Gizmonics Institute is saving time on his widget-filling.

After answering, steer the conversation

After the sales pro in the second example answered the prospect’s basic question and provided a testimonial, he seized the opportunity to steer the conversation toward how his product can meet the prospect’s specific needs.

The prospect most likely didn’t care how many widgets the biggest holster could hold; the information he was really looking for is how big a widget holster would be useful for him. The sales pro, having done his research, was able to add an insight about the prospect’s business needs.

Encourage your team to practice

If your sales pros are nimble enough to adjust their presentation around new information, they will provide more value for the prospect without giving up control of the conversation. Encourage your team to anticipate what questions a prospect might ask. Have them create responses that answer the question, include a testimonial or anecdote, and steer the conversation.

Then your team can debrief, compare results, and see which answers are better at keeping the prospect’s interest and keeping the sales pro in control of the conversation. With practice and feedback, your team can shift from canned answers to answers that move the buying process forward.

When we tell sales professionals to lead with questions, there is a tendency to think of asking questions as a way of controlling the conversation. Therefore, if the prospect is asking the questions, the sales pro has lost control and has to grab it back. But if the sales pro is prepared to answer questions in a way that deepens the conversation, a prospect’s question is not a threat or a nuisance. It’s an opportunity.