Turn those prospects into buyers, ask the right questions!

September 15, 2009 by Shirleen Von Hoffmann Leave a reply »

From my perspective as a business owner, sales trainer, and consumer, the most important skill to learn is how to effectively qualify your prospect.

The most common mistake sales people make is to immediately launch into a product presentation or “pitch” when they first meet their prospect. They extol the virtues of what they sell and tell the prospective buyer how good, fast, reliable, inexpensive or easy to use their product is. They talk, talk, and talk hoping they’ll convince the buyer that their product or service is of value. They talk instead of asking questions and listening.

The problem with this approach is that the “pitch” seldom addresses the wants and needs of the buyer. Because their needs have not been addressed, there is no compelling reason for them to consider buying your product. j0433797

One of the most effective ways to do this is to ask a few well thought-out questions to uncover what is important to the prospect. Here’s How!

People aren’t interested in what you have to sell, they are interested in what they need or want. The only way you will find out what they need or want is to question them, then sell them what they want! It’s easy!

Here is a tip…When structuring your questions use subjects that revolve around peace of mind, dissatisfaction, desired outcome, children, careers, commuting, quality, price, location, passion, motives, desires, fears, family, community, are just a few to use.

Gear the questions like these examples for maximum results.
What do you look for…?
What have you found…?
What makes you choose…?
What has been your experience…?
What is the one thing you would improve…
What is the deciding factors when…?
What would you change about…?

Now that I have given you some tools, Please share your favorite question that you have created to ask prospects, that gets you alot of information from that prospect!

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31 Responses

  1. Greg Poniewaz says:


    Great common sense information. Even the most experienced sales people can get “off their game” and go back to telling the client what they may not want to hear instead of finding out what they need.


  2. Edward Lott says:

    Edward Lott CSP, GRI
    VP – Sales and Marketing at Payne Family Homes

    Thanks Shirleen! Your posts always add lots of value.

    a couple favorites:

    “What is happening in your life right now that’s causing you to go out and look at new homes?”

    “If our home and the other one were both free, which one would you most like to own and why?”

  3. Greg,

    Most of my advise and articles are common sense and the things we all forget. I like to remind the older sales folks and help the newer sales folks.
    Thanks for the comments!

  4. Thanks for the comment Ed and I love both of those questions. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Bill Creekbaum says:


    What you are describing in your article is called “feature dumping”.

    Two questions I would suggest:

    1) Is there a price or payment range you are trying to achieve? The customer will respond with the item most important to them.

    2) After the customer fires off a number of comments, questions, etc. refocus the interaction by asking, “What are you trying to accomplish?” It takes the customer to their primary hot button(s) and the bottom line.

  6. Rebecca Gonzales says:

    Shirleen, HELP. I need you! I have recently transitioned into a sales position, I have a great property to sell, I get tons of mabe at a later date, no too many “No’s” but yet not one ‘YES’. I only have one month to prove myself to my VP. I have read every “Little Red Book” and shadowed the best in my company, what more does it take to get the contract signed?

  7. Hi Rebecca,

    Well I have no idea of what kind of product you have, if it is priced right or in the right location… but my first idea is this;

    Are you asking enough questions of your prospects to figure out why they are telling you “maybe later”?

    You must get to the core of why this property is not selling before you an come up with a sales strategy.

    My second questions is how many prospects are you getting and are you working those prospects to the maximum while they are there and after they leave?

    To me, if you have a good property, in a great location and priced right, then it’s a matter of traffic and working it. You can do it!

    Good Luck


  8. Hi Bill,

    Yes, when Sales People hit you up with what they have to sell, right off the bat that is called, “Feature Dumping”. Its not a good thing for sure. Thanks for the questions suggestions. They are both very good ones to use. The Price or Payment question tells you alot about the client and what they are thinking and where they are at. Really Good and to the point of what the article is focusing on. Thanks so much for your comments.

  9. Mary LeBlanc says:

    Mary LeBlanc
    Owner, LeBlanc & Associates
    Hi Shirleen,

    Your comments are exactly what many of us have been saying for years. Sales professionals must always utilize the ‘two ears-one mouth’ approach to their sales presentations.

    I have been writing for years about ‘discovery is key’. If you do not know anything about to whom you are selling or against what other homes are under consideration, a sales agent just becomes another drone in the sales center.

    Would love your permission to use this article in my quarterly edition of The Home Front!


  10. Dr Marc Clark says:

    Dr. Marc Clark
    President & CEO at SmartBizzOnLine.com

    Shirleen, yes your advise and articles are common sense however, in today’s world COMMON SENSE IS NOT SO COMMON.

    It was refreshing to read your perspective. Wishing you well

    Dr. Marc

  11. Darren Acosta says:

    Darren Acosta
    Director de Desarrollo de Negocio en Valadis System

    I would suggest this classic book: SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. It changed the way I used to sell. I was fortunate to attend one of his lectures in Madrid and I learned more in just 2 hours than in University during 5 years

  12. Clive Beesley says:

    Clive Beesley
    Business Development Manager at Gemini Tec Ltd

    Very good, I always thought these were standard questions, but maybe not.

    Personaly I like to develop the relationship first, if that is not present you will not get to the nitty gritty as it were, especialy in large accounts.

    To compliment good questions you need to be able to be silent and listen, the most powerful of all.

  13. William Jones says:

    William Jones
    Representative Counselor at Reno Tradebanc

    So true. I had the advantage of starting my sales career in used cars. Qualifying the customer is just necessary. You do it mostly to see whether they can buy or how much car they might afford, but it is a great opportunity to see what they want or need. I learned the more questions I could ask, the more I would weld the customer into a commitment. It’s psychological. You create a personal bond, and they get the idea you want to know what they need or want. It’s relationship, and what is missing in most sales. especially phone sales.

  14. Hi Mary,

    Thanks for the “atta girls”! You are welcome to use the article as a training tool, just mention me somewhere please as the Author.


  15. Clive,

    What is standard for some is not for others.

    I agree you must develop rapport or don’t start the sale and guess what…You use questions to develop rapport and find common ground.

    Thanks for the comments, they are really appreciated….


  16. William,

    So True and so easy. I don’t know why some people don’t get this. It’s very simple. When you are interested in people, their wants and their needs and your interests come across as sincere, it’s easy to sell them what they need.

    Thanks for sharing…


  17. Thanks Dr. Marc,

    I always appreciate your input and you are sooooo right on! What is common sense is not so common. When you are out and about doing secret shopping of sales folks, you realize just how many don’t get some of the basics.

    Thanks again, hope you are well.


  18. Thanks Darren for the book suggestion.

    Can you tell me what is was that impressed you with this book?


  19. Peace Warden says:

    Peace Warden
    CEO at Herbal Healing Gardens

    Excellent article, It has given me the edge to have a customer begging for a card or a number, I have yet figured out how to keep a study supply of business cards.
    It always amazes me when strangers say “I heard you talking about your business” ” How can I get in touch with you?” I never would have believed it unless I had not tried it. Thank YOU. One Love

  20. Bob Dahl says:

    Bob Dahl
    Helms Briscoe-Associate

    Is there any given question that can get a discussion started and your foot in the door on a somewhat consistent basis. An ICE Breaker question if you will? Your thoughts are certainly appreciated, oh wise one.


  21. Wonderful! So glad to hear that Peace!

  22. Bob,

    I have found that the questions to ask when “trying to get the foot in the door” are the questions that find out the needs of the client. Questions like, “So what are you looking for in a ___?”, “What are your company needs in the area of ____?” ‘If you could change five things about your current ____ to achieve better results, what would you change?”

    Once you know the needs, you can sell those needs.

    Oh Wise One LOL!

  23. Bob Dahl says:


    Good stuff!! Thank You!!

    Bob Dahl

  24. Stacey Maziarz says:


    How about – What’s your biggest headache right now?


  25. Love that Stacy! I will put it out as a question.

    Thanks for the suggestion.

  26. Susan Kramer Pope says:

    Susan Kramer-Pope
    Owner/Project Communication Consultant and Coach

    Tagging onto what Shirleen has presented, if you are a custom builder meeting with a prospective client, have inquired about home life activities including such things as fitness, meditation, yoga, art and craft making, art collecting, musicianship, music/film, cooking? Have you reviewed the plans to see that the design and layout supports their lifestyle? For example: are the rooms big enough? If they display art, are there enough solid walls vs. window walls? This shows that you care that the house they intend to build suits them. This will save them a lot of heartache and preserve your reputation when the project is done.

    Also if you are a “Green Builder”, have you asked your prospect if having “eco-friendly non-off-gassing furniture will be important to them? The interior furnishings play a big role in indoor air-quality, and they may not have thought about that aspect of being “green”. As the builder, you are demonstrating, once again, that you care about them and keeping the big picture in mind.

  27. KP Sapkota says:

    KP Sapkota
    Regional Manager IT at IHG

    I generally over power the discussion first half and talk more on cost money , revenue generating Technology , saving and some of industry practice so people starts to hear you ( Catch the Nerve )

    It is interesting to see and people hear ( IT people talking financials & figures, ) this has resulted to some of the successful projects .This is interesting learning for me to make people hear you & listen in second half from people what they feel & spend time on questions and answering

  28. Glad you found it interesting.

  29. Chris Skloff says:

    Chris Skloff
    Sales Training Manager at Toll Brothers, Inc
    Great questions, here are a few that I like to use to gain maximum results
    How long have you been looking for a new home?
    When was the last time you purchased a new home?
    When do you plan on making a decision?
    What type of financing are you considering?
    Who else will be involved in making a decision to purchase?
    What is important to you for your new home?
    What speacial features are you looking for in your new home?

  30. nicky says:

    Hi Shirleen, I’m no sales guru however I’ve been researching a lot and have found some pretty good questions that really shows the customer that you really care about them and not just making a sale. I believe this perceived knowledge makes the customer more willing to buy from the seller.

    Why are you looking for this *product/service ?
    Did you have problems with the previous one?

    Why is this important to you?
    How will this really help you?
    What were the problems you had with the previous product/ service?
    Is there anything specific you are looking for?
    Can you tell me what you expect to get from this product/service that you are searching for?
    Would you agree that this product should help you? Ok… what more do you have in mind?

    Hope you find it helpful

  31. Nicky,

    Thanks for your comments. I love your questions and this is why…Discovery is what it’s all about. So many Sales People miss this. The quicker you get people talking, the quicker you figure out what they need, the quicker you can sell it to them. Too many Sales People think they need to do the talking…no no no, you need to get the client talking so you can discover!

    Thanks so much for bringing up my favorite topic!

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