Contrary to popular belief, to be a successful salesperson, it doesn't matter how much you know about your product or service. It also doesn't matter how much of an industry expert you are. It doesn't even matter how great your mother thinks you are. The only thing that really matters to be successful in selling is your ability to shut up and listen.
To talk less means you have to ask questions that truly engage the customer. However, this doesn't mean you need to develop complex questions. Instead, the best tactic is to ask shorter ones. Long questions tend to result in short answers, while short questions will generally result in long answers.
An example of a great short question is "Why?" In my opinion, there isn't a better follow-up question you can ask after the customer has shared some information with you.
When preparing your sales presentation, one guideline is to restrict yourself to talking for no more than 20 seconds at a time without asking a question. The question you ask should be one directed at the comments you just made. By doing so, you're checking with the customer to see if they understood what you just shared with them. Even if your product or service requires a complex presentation, you should follow this rule.
Your goal on any sales call is to talk only 20% of the time. To help ensure that this takes place, you have to plan ahead. Before you start developing your sales presentation, create your list of questions. This is contrary to the pattern of most salespeople, who often spend a substantial portion of their time developing their presentation and, at the last minute, develop their list of questions. Consider that if you're expecting to make a 20-minute presentation, you should have 40 questions (two questions per minute).
If you want to move your questioning process to the next level, make half of the questions you ask be ones that help the customer see and feel the pain they have. By doing so, they will be much more open to receiving your solution. For example, if you're selling computer backup systems, you might ask, "Can you explain to me what happens when data are lost?" This short, concise question is designed to get the customer thinking about the risks they face. Furthermore, the beauty of this type of question is that no matter what the customer's response is, some good follow-up questions will naturally arise.
By adhering to these guidelines, you will be able to see dramatic results in the number of sales you are able to close. So shut up and sell.
Mark Hunter is a nationally recognized professional sales training/motivational speaker based in Omaha, Neb. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.