Business Articles - Sales

Asking the Right Questions

In sales, you need to stay focused on questions to help your customers make decisions. This is a tough lesson to learn because until you really understand the difference between good selling techniques and general conversation about the job, you will seldom stay focused on or get the order.

People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. The way to show them that you really care is to ask questions about them and their project. Show them you are genuinely interested in the job at hand.

Your questions should be focused to see if the customer qualifies to buy from you, not if you qualify to sell to them. You are there to gather information from your prospect. You are not there to socialize, entertain, be interviewed or qualified. Most importantly, you are not there to educate your customer. You are there to get the order.

This is done by asking four direct questions:

1) What do you want to do?
2) When do you want to do it?
3) Who will make the buying decision?
4) How much does that person wish to spend?

It seems fairly simple, asking those four questions. However, what do many people in sales do? They try to educate the customer. I was on a sales call recently with a young fellow that had a whole house remodel lead on a lake front property. The owner also had some bad erosion on the lakefront and wondered aloud how to fix it.

Since I was along to observe only, I had to watch as this young man told the owner everything he needed to know to fix the retaining or sea wall himself, or hire a handyman to come in and do all the work. Instead of finding out the answers to the four questions, this young fellow was trying to "educate" the customer, and show him how much he (the contractor) knew.

Instead of answering the owner's question on how to fix the problem, he should have first said, "That is a real problem you have, and we will need to put a design agreement together so we can get started on the repairs before the erosion gets any worse. Are you in a position to get started with a design agreement today?" That would have gotten him a financial commitment from the owner very quickly.

If the owner had said no, then it is back to asking more questions such as, "Is there some reason you're not prepared to move ahead with the repairs at this time?" Ask enough questions, and you'll learn the answers you need to either close the sale, or know that you are wasting time with that prospect.

If the customer had said yes, with an agreement in hand, the contractor would have the time to work on getting the four questions answered and to secure the overall house remodel contract which I later rough-estimated at just over $530,000.

Too often, salespeople believe that if they do enough talking the customer will wave a white flag and say, "Enough already, where do I sign?"

When you are asked a question, ASK A QUESTION BACK. Let the customer do the talking and they will tell you everything you need to sell them, or for you to make the decision to walk away.

People want to buy or they would not have called you in the first place. If they have the money, and they know what they want, don't get in their way with information, rhetoric, stories about yourself and/or your company, long-winded answers, etc. Let them buy! This is not high pressure selling. This is selling, as it should be done.

Here is an example. The customer says, "Do you guys have raised panel cabinets?" The salesperson immediately starts telling the customer all about the cabinet line(s) they have. Makes, models, serial numbers, stains, finishes, hinges, pulls...

Try this. Customer says, "Do you guys have raised panel cabinets?" The salesperson responds, "Do you want raised panel cabinets?"

Customer responds, "Yes, can we get them in white with gold pulls?" The salesperson responds, "Do you want the cabinets finished in white?" Customer responds, "Yes".

Now if the salesperson is on their toes, before the customer gets back into the loop of question asking, the salesperson will ask them, "You asked about gold pulls. Did you see them at a showroom or did someone else help you select the pulls?" That answer will tell you how much research they have done on their new kitchen and who else they have talked with -- in short, how serious they are about doing the job.

You always want to know if the customer has talked to anyone else about their potential job. The previous question was a perfect lead in. If the customer says that they had Kitchens Overnight in to talk to them about their remodeling, the next question should be, "What is your criteria for picking a contractor?"

Now you will find out if they are serious about getting a quality job done or if they are just looking for a cheap price. This will also give you a very good idea if they (a couple) are both on the same page. Often, husbands will go through the exercise just so that he can get several "bids" and then say, "I told you we couldn?t afford to remodel the kitchen!" You don't want to waste your time on that.

Your questions should be directed at getting decision-making answers. Those that have attended our Markup and Profit seminar have seen me demonstrate answering a question with a question. It takes practice. You practice on your spouse, your kids, the clerk at the grocery store, but do your practicing before you get in front of your customers.

Put a cork on the information providing and start asking questions. Get the customer answer your questions and you are directing where the conversation is going. The person asking the questions is driving the train, and can become a very high paid engineer.

And the sign on your train station should say "CONTRACT".

By Michael Stone

Michael Stone has more than three decades of experience in the building and remodeling industry. Michael offers Coaching and Consulting services for construction companies throughout the U.S. He can be reached by e-mail at, by phone at 1-888-944-0044, or on the web at

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