Persuasive Questions

Dr. Scott O. Baird
Developing creative questions

The magic of persuasive questions in the sales process

 

Any consideration of a sales methodology must include a discussion about asking effective questions. A sales process would be incomplete without attention to the essential sales skill of crafting and using brilliant questions. If a salesperson is ever going to be a sales master, they must Be Brilliant! in the art of persuasive questioning.

In our study of more than 467,000 sales interactions, two themes emerged. First, top performers are very skilled at crafting and asking persuasive questions. Second, they were unconsciously competent in the way they used questions during the sales process.

They could articulate the importance of asking questions. They could even give examples of questions they use. But they could not explain how they came up with the questions or how a series of questions worked together in a persuasive way.

These top performers could not explain why their questions were persuasive or how they stimulated discoveries in their prospects that made them want to buy. Though they were very skilled at using questions to persuade prospects, they were ineffective mentors to other salespeople.

There is both an art and a science to every sales methodology. As William James, the father of American Psychology put it,

“A science only lays down lines within which the rules of the art must fall, laws which the follower of the art must not transgress; but what particular thing he shall positively do within those lines is left exclusively to his own genius.”

The purpose of this article is to help salespeople to understand the science, the stepwise creation of effective questions. It looks at both the what and the why—what are Brilliant Questions and why do they work. It also models the use of Brilliant questions in series to demonstrate the cooperative power of questions working together to accomplish a persuasive outcome. The model is provided not as a method for every salesperson to adopt—it just wouldn’t be authentic. It is used here to “lay down the lines” so that the creative seller can use their own creative genius to create their own persuasive questions.

Sales is about the way people think. The science of persuasion informs us that you can largely shape what and how people think. If you do that well, if you master it, you will out-compete every other human being that walks into your prospect’s place of business. Brilliant questions shape the way prospects think and the discoveries they make.

As we developed our sales system, we wanted it to have persuasive power based on scientific principles. That was the motivation for our field research with more than 3,500 salespeople and 144,000 sales cases. In addition, we relied on the scientific literature related to persuasion. It might be interesting to look at a few of the studies that influence the creation of persuasive questions.

Here are four simple steps that will help salespeople to create Brilliant questions.

The purpose of this article is to help salespeople to understand the science, and the stepwise creation of effective questions. It looks at both the what and the why—what are Brilliant Questions and why do they work. It also models the use of Brilliant questions (link to Be Brilliant! info) in series to demonstrate the cooperative power of questions working together to accomplish a persuasive outcome. The model is provided not as a method for every salesperson to adopt—it just wouldn’t be authentic. It is used here to “lay down the lines” so that the creative seller can use their own creative genius to create their own persuasive questions.

Sales is about the way people think. The science of persuasion informs us that you can largely shape what and how people think. If you do that well, if you master it, you will out-compete every other human being that walks into your prospect’s place of business. Brilliant questions shape the way prospects think and the discoveries they make.

As we developed our sales system (link to methodology pillar page), we wanted it to have persuasive power based on scientific principles. That was the motivation for our field research with more than 3,500 salespeople and 144,000 sales cases. In addition, we relied on the scientific literature related to persuasion. It might be interesting to look at a few of the studies (link to sales methodology) that influence the creation of persuasive questions.

Here are four simple steps that will help salespeople to create Brilliant questions.

  1. Create hypotheses about needs, wants, motivations
    • Creating hypotheses begins with all those facts and data that prove your product’s superiority and the value that you provide to your prospects.
    • Choose your favorite facts and begin preparing leading statements and brilliant questions.
    • Start today.
  2. Develop leading statements and questions to test your hypotheses
  3. Stimulate discoveries in your buyers
  4. Confirm them

Here is a sample of what a series of Brilliant Questions could look like. Note: The following exchange occurs after seller and buyer have developed a rapport and rhythm. They have discussed milestone successes and non-threatening questions about the status quo which leads to the disclosure that the buyer uses the PX10 equipment. A fact that is already known to the seller.

This exchange comes from the book, Be Brilliant! How to Master the Sales Skill of Persuasive Questioning by Scott O. Baird PhD. It is, of course, contrived. Time and space require that it be so. And you would be a much better artist. The powerful value of exchange is to model the scientific principles.

From Be Brilliant!

Seller (Leading Statement, Drill Down Query): You have probably seen the same article that I read in the “Manufacturing Today” magazine. The article claims that high error rate increases frustration of operators. It also reports that the PX10 that you’re using, has the highest error rate in the industry. If the author is correct, it would predict morale issues among your team. Tell me about the current attitudes and behaviors of your operators.

Buyer: You nailed it. They are frustrated. They complain and murmur all the time. They inappropriately express anger. An unacceptable number of employees show up late for work. Absenteeism is too high, and my turnover rate is excessive. Now that I think about it, our current equipment is eroding morale and doing damage to my people.

Seller (Validate followed by drill down query): Wow, your insight is spot on—showing up late, high absenteeism and complaining are not your fault at all. Your equipment is causing poor performance in your people. Great observation. How much higher than expected is the turnover of your equipment operators?

Buyer: I lose employees every month at a rate 1-2 people higher than expected.

Seller (Status Quo): How long does it take to get a new employee hired and up to speed?

Buyer: It’s at least 30 days for training alone.

Seller (Reframe, Consequences Query): So what I think I’m hearing you say is, you are losing employees at a rate of 1-2 employees higher than normal every month and that it costs you at least one month’s salary to replace every employee. Did I get that right?

Buyer: Yes. That’s right

Seller (Drill Down): And you’re paying them around $60,000 per year?

Buyer: Maybe a little more than that.

Seller (Reframe, Consequence Query): Check my math here, but if it costs a full month’s salary to replace a lost employee and your EXCESS loss is 1-2 EVERY month, that is equivalent to the annual salary of 1-2 employees.

Buyer: You got it.

Seller (Reframe, Consequence Query): So with employer taxes, your cost for excessive turnover related to your current equipment is between $72,000 and $144,000 per year.

Buyer: I didn’t even realize, but yeah, that’s got to be about right.

Seller (Vision): If we could cut the error rate by 90% what would be the effect on productivity?

Buyer: If we could reduce our error rate by 90%? We would produce an additional 100 units per month.

Seller (Vision): How would your people feel about increased productivity with nearly no error rate?

Buyer: Yeah, well, that would definitely boost morale.

(Moment of discovery!)

Seller (Validation, Consequence Query): It seems that boosting morale will help with our turnover problem.

Buyer: I think it would.

Seller (Vision): How much of the excessive turnover would it solve if we could eliminate the frustration of high error rate and boost morale by being more productive and respected?

Buyer: When I think about it in terms of reducing frustration and increasing respect… that would absolutely solve my turnover problem.

Seller (Validate, Drill Down): Great instincts! All of the research supports what you are saying. What about the late arrival and absenteeism?

Buyer: Reduce it, for sure. In fact, when I think about the increased respect they would enjoy—I think all of my employees would be more engaged. It might not eliminate lateness and absenteeism, but it certainly wouldn’t be the problem it is today.

(The connection between equipment, morale and turnover is clear, quantifiable, and confirmed in the mind of the buyer.)

Seller (Validates based on previous statement, Effects Query): You are spot on. Let me ask you another question. With an extra 100 units per month what would happen to your per-unit cost of production?

Buyer: Production cost would go down by 7-10%!

Seller (Benefit, Validate, Leading Statement, Status Quo): Mr. Jones, you are going to be a hero around here. You realize, of course, that if you cut costs by even 5%, all of that 5% goes directly to bottom line! What is your current profit margin?

Buyer: Our margins are very tight. Probably 5-6% is all.

Seller (Reframe, Effects Query): What you’re saying is that in addition to solving the turnover problem, we are going to double profits?!

Buyer: That is really exciting.

Seller (Reframe): Mr. Jones, what I think I’m hearing you say is by upgrading equipment to top-of-the-line technology that will reduce error rates by 90%, you will be able to cut employee hiring costs by at least $72,000 per year, increase employee morale, and double your profit margin. Did I get that right?

Buyer (in awe): I think you did!

Seller (Exits Using FABP and Starts New Drilldown)

That is the power of Brilliant Questions. Persuasion is much more powerful and complete when the buyer makes the discoveries. Asking Brilliant Questions is more persuasive than delivering brilliant facts.

Evaluate yourself (Based on this example):


Are you more likely to tell the customer what you want them to know or,

Are you more likely to help them to discover what you want them to know?
How well do you stimulate the epiphany of value in your prospects?
How well are you doing Needs Audits today? (1-10)

 

What would happen if….


  1. You could stimulate epiphanies of value with Brilliant Questions?
  2. What would happen to your persuasive power?
  3. How much more business could you close?

You can learn more about the Griffin Hill sales methodology, check out the book, Be Brilliant! or Schedule a time to ask your questions.
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