5 Things I Learned from Shari Levitin About Asking Sales Questions

Written by Ben Beadle
on March 25, 2019

How To Ask Good Sales Questions From Shari Levitin's Heart And Sell

We thought we’d share some words of wisdom from Shari Levitin’s Heart and Sell, 10 Universal Truths Every Salesperson Needs to Know. The whole book is worth a read, but in particular there’s a great chapter on how to ask sales questions. It begins:

‘Universal Truth #7: When we ask the right questions, we uncover what matters most. “Discovery questions” uncover customers’ needs, direct their thinking down a path we choose, generate curiosity, and ultimately move them to action. These questions build rapport, gain commitment, and help your prospects sell themselves. Well-crafted questions help us make a point loudly, without having to raise our voice. Good questions create change. Great questions can change the world.’


Why is asking questions an important sales skill?

Questions are the key to sales. It’s how we identify what our customers need, of course, but great questions also help keep the customer engaged in the sales conversation. Questions challenge our thinking - both for the customer (‘Am I happy with the status quo?’) and for the salesperson (‘Why don’t we offer that?’). And they keep things moving forward.

Asking the right questions is an important part of a salesperson’s job. The good news is, it’s a learnable skill.

In her book, Shari talks about using Third-Level Questions to uncover the dominant buying motive, any hidden objections and concerns. The book is full of gems - sales advice for new salespeople and long-term sellers alike! - but these five insights on how to use questions to close deals were too good to keep to ourselves.


1. Third Level Questions help get you inside your customer’s head

So what exactly is a Third Level Question? These are basically the deep and meaningful questions - the questions that will hopefully uncover the emotional connection between your customer and your product. It might be that that connection isn’t obvious - even to the customer themselves - until you start asking the right questions. It’s a bit like the 5 Whys technique, but perhaps a little more personable.

Shari uses the example of a client who is selling franchises. When he starts asking prospects ‘what would it mean to you to own your own business’, he unleashes the powerful emotional motives that inspire people to buy in. ‘The questions themselves stirred something deep inside of them and moved them to action,’ says Shari.

Third-Level questions can spark an emotional need for a product. And heightened emotions have a way of increasing the urgency to buy, thus shortening the sales cycle.


2. Sometimes seasoned reps forget to ask questions

Shari talks about some of her clients who can’t understand why a previously successfully sales team has seen a decline in sales. Upon review, she realises that these salespeople no longer go through the full discovery process. Having been in the game for a while, they’ve fallen into the trap of believing they know what their customers need and what their motivations are. Assuming customer objections, they offer generic solutions and those generic solutions just aren’t as appealing. It’s also a problem for reps that are so enthusiastic about their product they haven’t taken the time to properly explain or even reason why their prospects should be excited about it too. Don’t ever ditch discovery, Shari says. It’s as important for your prospect to uncover their buying motivations as it is for you.


3. Asking the wrong question at the wrong time can alienate your customer

Third-Level questions are great, but don’t start off with them! Imagine how you would feel if a total stranger started a conversation by asking a probing question. Would you answer, or would you be totally put off?

Start by gathering facts, then progress to deeper questions that uncover customers’ problems and emotional motivators. Likewise, if you spend the whole time asking fact-finding questions, the customer is unlikely to remain engaged in the process. In fact, they’ll probably wonder if you’ve done your research at all, and if you are ever going to get to the point!


4. Complimenting a customer’s choice is more effective than criticising

Criticise a customer’s choice and they will go on the defensive, telling you all the reasons why it works for them. Compliment a customer’s choice and they are more likely to tell you what’s wrong with it, giving you an opportunity to suggest an alternative solution that is a better fit for them. Genius!


5. Find a problem that your product will solve, but don’t stop there

We all know we need to sell on problems rather than products, but Shari points out sometimes people need more of a push to motivate them to act. Describing the broader implications of the problem - whether they be financial or emotional - helps customers make the leap from acknowledging the problem to taking action to solve it.


Heart over head, every time

Whether you’re in B2B or B2C or B2 anything else, you’re a person selling to a person and people primarily buy for emotional reasons. Shari asks: if people are buying for Third-Level reasons, why aren’t you asking Third-Level questions?

We’re hyped to get out there and get to know our customers better! Check out Heart and Sell and why not also sign up to Shari’s newsletter for more helpful selling tips?

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