Client questions: Are you a master or a slave?Article added by Steve Lewit on October 18, 2012
SteveLewit

Steve Lewit

Buffalo Grove, IL

Joined: February 27, 2008

As a sales professional, you have a responsibility to answer questions asked by your clients. That responsibility, however, is not a mandate that you have to answer every question that is asked when it is asked. In fact, your greater responsibility is to clarify the question and make certain that the client’s real question is being answered.

Ah, the question. Clients love asking them — all kinds of them. It’s their way of learning and it’s also their way of keeping control of the meeting process. And you, being the helpful person you are, diligently answer each question — one after the other after the other — no matter how many they ask and no matter how many you answer. The question is, are you mastering your client’s questions, moving them along in your sales process so that you can get to a clear business conclusion, or are you just a slave to their questions, jumping up with an answer in almost a knee-jerk way every time a question is asked?

When clients ask questions, they are testing your knowledge, your ability to communicate and perhaps, your patience. Moreover, when clients ask questions, they expect an answer. They are thinking to themselves that it’s your job to answer all the questions they have. While at one level that is true, on another level it is not. Yes, it’s your job to answer client questions, but it’s also your job to discover their real question, the hidden question, the question behind the question, before you answer.

Answering surface questions may make you feel good, or smart, or on top of your game, but it’s like shooting ducks in the dark. The real question, the question lurking behind the surface question, if left unanswered, will eat away at your client’s confidence in you, in your recommendations and in their ability to make a good decision. Unanswered questions will continue to bother your client and eventually undermine your sale. When your sale ends in a "think about it" or a client that disappears after a series of meetings, unanswered questions from below the surface are usually the cause.

Sometimes, I sit back and wonder why clients ask certain questions; where they got their ideas from; why certain details are important to them and others are not; why they got stuck on certain facts or certain emotions; and why one advisor may get questions that another advisor may never get at all.

Here’s what I’ve discovered about questions:

Where questions come from

When you are sitting with a client, whether you recognize it or not, it is a pressurized situation — you are trying to help the client and putting out a lot of energy to formulate both good strategies and good communication with your client, communication which harmonizes with their personality.
Your client is also feeling pressure in that he or she wants the problem solved, does not know if they can really trust you and must try to rapidly process information, most of which they is unfamiliar to them. Questions arise, from both you and your clients’ perspective, in an effort to clarify thoughts and communicate accurate information. That’s why a question should never be taken lightly.

Confusion on either your part or your clients' part is a sure road to an unsatisfactory parting of the ways between the two of you. The old adage to keep it simple is very valuable in that it allows you and your client to process information and ideas quickly. If information cannot be processed and questions go unanswered, then they sit and fester, intellectually and emotionally, and eventually undo the sale.

Clients rarely ask the question they really want to ask on their first try

Because there is so much information to process during sales calls, both emotionally and intellectually, questions will always come up. Unlike your clients, you have honed the skills to ask the right questions; questions that are well formulated, clear and focused on your real needs. Clients, on the other hand, are not skilled at asking questions that reflect what they really want to find out. They just ask the questions that pop into their heads. Perhaps they just read an article, talked to their current advisor, listened to a TV show, heard something on the radio or searched the Internet. When you present information, that information draws up related information embedded in their memories. If your information and their other information don’t make sense, or confuses them, then a question pops up.

But that’s all happening on the surface — a knee jerk reaction to what you said or presented. Deeper in your clients’ consciousness is the real question. Typically, they are not readily in touch with that question and so don’t ask it right out.

For example, you might be presenting an annuity and the client asks you a question about surrender charges. You can answer that question or you can try and dig one or two levels below the surface to find the real issue. You could say, "That’s a great question. There must be a reason you are asking me that?" As long as you cushion your questions with a complimentary or softening remark, your client won’t get frustrated.

Now your client might say, “Well, I just want to know what I’m getting into. I’ve been burned before with charges I didn’t know about.”

OK, so there is a question about surrender charges, but the real question is a question of trust. If that doesn’t get addressed and you focus only on the surrender charges, the sale has a good chance of going south.
Questions need to be answered and nothing more

Most selling professionals confuse their role of being in service to their clients with being in servitude to their clients. When a question is asked, the first mistake is to not give total attention to the question. The second mistake is to answer the surface question right off the bat. The next mistake is to answer the question but then add on a whole bunch of information, essentially to show how smart you are. That may sound innocent enough, but when you add on that extra information, it will trigger more questions from your client.

For example, your client, as above, asks about surrender charges. You dive in and give a thorough explanation, which includes information about how the insurance company invests your money long term. Now your client has heard somewhere that some of these investments are unreliable. So, he asks about that. Again, you explain how the investments work, and now begin rating companies. OK, now your client starts to question ratings, how they are formulated, different rating houses, etc. And so it goes.

You actually draw questions from your client that he or she probably wouldn’t have asked had you just answered the original question and nothing more.

Conclusion

As a sales professional, you have a responsibility to answer questions asked by your clients. That responsibility, however, is not a mandate that you have to answer every question that is asked when it is asked. In fact, your greater responsibility is to clarify the question and make certain that the client’s real question is being answered. When you are a question master, you choose the time, the place and the question to be answered. As a question slave, you jump into action every time a question is asked. Master questions, both yours and your clients, and you master sales.
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