Sales Questions: What You’re Doing Wrong

Sarah Leung
February 4, 2015

Asking great sales questions is a vital element of each conversation you have with retailers. You’ve likely been told time and time again that in order to sell to retailers, you have to understand their needs--that your goal is to help them, rather than simply sell to them. We’d all probably acknowledge the wisdom of that statement. Sometimes, however, we fall short of that ideal. Sales reps are often told that the key to helping their customers is to “ask more questions.” But what if you’re not asking the right ones? Find out what you might be doing wrong.

Sales Questions: What You're Doing Wrong

1. You’re asking questions you could’ve answered yourself.

If you’re wasting time asking retailers things like, “What did you order when I saw you last?” and “What’s your shipping address again?” you need to change the way you do things. This is information that you, the sales rep, should already know. This is an instance in which sales order management software can help you keep track of valuable information. It can store all of your customers’ contact information, order history, etc. on your digital device, as well as allow you to write and submit orders digitally.

2. Your questions are too open-ended.

Asking sales questions that are too open-ended is a common problem. Questions like, “How’s business?” and “What can we do to serve you better?” will yield vague, short answers or even platitudes. They’re just not targeted enough. On the flip side, it can be tiresome for your retailers to answer these kinds of broad sales questions. For instance, say you ask something like, “What are your biggest needs at this time?” Your retailer can interpret this question in so many different ways. It’s far too general, and ultimately requires more thought and consideration than can be given in one short meeting with you. There’s also this often overlooked factor to consider: your retailers may simply not be aware of what they need. Ultimately, it is your job as a sales rep to take on an advisory role and explain what your retailer needs to help them be successful. Which brings us to...

3. You’re not asking insight-led sales questions.

As we mentioned above, your job as a sales rep is to help your customers see problems or opportunities that they might not see themselves, and then provide solutions. You need to be there to think for them. This doesn’t mean that you should walk into your next store visit with an overly aggressive sales pitch. It means that your questions should be led by insight--insight on where the market is going, the competitive landscape, how products have sold at other similar outlets, or how your company is able to serve retailers faster and more efficiently than other vendors. Your goal is always to help your retailer learn something new. By giving your retailers valuable knowledge, you can more clearly demonstrate why your products are the right fit for them, without a manipulative, “sales-y” approach.

4. You ask too many 2-part questions.

Do you ever find yourself asking something that’s actually two different questions wrapped into one? Like, “What are your goals for this year, and what’s going to be your primary focus?” Not only are these questions an example of the excessively open-ended kind mentioned earlier, the problem with these two-part questions is also that people will answer selectively. If you’ve ever watched a political debate, you’re well aware of this fact. You may expect a coherent, reasoned reply to both inquiries, but what you’ll usually end up with is a partial answer. People will only answer one part of the question (the part they they feel safe or comfortable answering) and ignore the other.

5. You can’t anticipate their answers.

This might be the most important point of all. You need to be able to anticipate your retailer’s answers to every question you ask, and have the ability to craft meaningful replies. This may sound obvious, but think about it. You want to be able to steer the conversation. If you ask questions and your retailer presents you with concerns that you weren’t prepared to address, you’ll be left looking foolish. If you find that this is happening to you on a regular basis, you’ve got some work to do.   As you take on a more strategic role with your retailers, you need to equip yourself with the knowledge, perspective, and added value that will make them look forward to your visits to their store. The implications here go beyond the interaction between sales rep and retailers. Marketing teams and managers need to provide the tools, knowledge, and training that reps can bring into their sales meetings. By adding value and avoiding hackneyed, overly general questions that confuse customers or lead nowhere, sales reps will be able to make customers happier and sell more product. Do you have any great sales questions that are working for you in your conversations with retailers? Share them in the comments below. For more on the evolving role of sales reps, click here.