Telling Isn’t Selling: 5 Great Questions to Ask Prospects

By / 9 months ago

The person who is in control of the sales interview is NOT the one doing most the talking, but the one asking the questions. During presentations to prospects, many salespeople make the mistake of doing too much “telling” and asking too few questions.

Instead of telling a prospect about a new service your company offers, try phrasing your advantage in the form of a question to give it more punch.

Instead of saying, “We just bought new equipment to give us the ability to put shingles on the roof.” Try this two-part questioning approach:

“What benefit would it be to you for your shingles to be delivered on the roof instead of stacked on the ground?”

Prospect: “It sure would save us a lot of time and labor dollars. It might even reduce on-the-job injuries.”

“If we could commit to deliver your shingles on the roof, could you see fit to give us your roofing business?”

By asking a question, you give your prospect an opportunity to respond to your idea before you actually make a commitment. If you put your idea in the form of a statement, the prospect is not required to respond. By asking a question, you are engaging your prospect, and directing the conversation.

Here are a few additional questions that should give you better insight into your prospects’ needs and how you might overcome sales obstacles that may not be so obvious:

  1. At the end of the year, what evidence will you look for to determine how successful you’ve been? While builders need quality building materials and good service to perform their craft, learning more about how they measure success will give you a better opportunity to assist them in achieving their goals and objectives.
  2. What criteria do you use for choosing a supplier? It’s difficult to meet a prospect’s needs if you don’t know how the prospect chooses a supplier. To be the best option for this prospect’s consideration, you need to know what they’re looking for. Since prospects so often focus on price, the answer to this question will give you insight into other factors the prospect considers important.
  3. How do you define superior service? We all have our own definition of terrific service. Builders are no exception. Odds are each of your prospects have their own ideas, so to meet varying needs among your customers and prospects, you’ll be wise to find out how each individual defines service. You may have to probe a bit with some prospects, so don’t merely settle for an answer like, “on time delivery.” As an example, you might also wish to find out specifically what each prospect expects from an outside salesperson.
  4. How will you measure the success of ______? You fill in the blank. This is a highly versatile question. It could be, “How will you measure the success of “this window line;” or “me as an outside salesperson;” or “our service to the jobsite;” or “our business relationship.” Don’t guess at how a prospects measure success, ask them! When a builder gives you a reason for not doing business with you or your company, use the following question to find out the real reason for the negative response.
  5. If it were not for _______, are you telling me we could earn a share of your business? Again, you fill in the blank. Example: If it were not for price. I mean, if our prices were line for line identical to our competitors’ pricing, are you telling me we could do business together?

Never assume that the reason you are given is the real reason, try to find out if the reason is real or merely an excuse for not buying.

Telling is not selling! Ask more well designed open-ended questions to gain insight into what you must do to earn a share of your prospects’ business.

Bill Lee

Bill Lee has nearly 40 years of experience in the construction supply industry. A seminar leader and consultant, he is the author of two books: Gross Margin and 30 Ways Managers Shoot Themselves in the Foot. You can reach Bill at, or 800.277.7888.