Three Questions That Capture Your Customer’s Attention

by Stu Schlackman, author and sales expert

You may be asking yourself, “Why didn’t I get the follow-up meeting with that recent prospect?” You asked all the right questions and got the answers you needed to qualify them. You had the prospect company’s budget, knew its goals and needs and understood the company’s timeframe to make the decision. You knew who the decision maker was, were keenly aware of the competitors that were in play and felt you had the perfect solution to meet the company’s needs.

So, why didn’t it work out?

Unfortunately, this happens to many sales professionals – in every situation, only one will earn the customer’s business. Put yourself in the best position by asking the right questions – the ones that make the customer take notice of who you are and what you have to offer. What makes them pay attention to you? What are the questions that get the customer to say, “Tell me more”?

Customers get bored when salespeople ask the basic surface questions. These are the questions that you need to have answered to better understand the customer’s situation and so that your solution can be positioned to meet the customer’s needs. Customers, however, already know their situation. They want to know what makes you different from the pack and how you can help them in a way that provides value no one else can deliver.

And remember, the last thing prospects want on a first appointment is a presentation! This meeting is not about you and what you offer. It should be all about the customer and how you can help meet and exceed the customer’s needs and achieve their goals and objectives. Customers want the conversation to be all about them. In other words, let them talk – you should be listening!

So, what are the questions you should ask? Think about it this way: customers engage best when they are asked specific

and targeted questions that pique their interest and highlight the consequences of unsolved issues. There are three critical types of questions you need to ask to build momentum and ensure that you get the next meeting.

1. What are the issues?

To build the critical trusting relationship, you need to understand what’s really going on. Ask, “What issues are you facing that most need to be resolved?” Do not start by asking what type of solution they are looking for or how much they will spend; instead, aim to learn where they are experiencing pain. How bad is the pain, and how long has it been going on?

The best sales people dig deep when it comes to understanding customer issues. You can further understand the pain by asking “why” questions. When you ask “why,” you’re bringing the customer into the past, which allows them to elaborate on what happened in the first place.

2. What is the cause?

Ask, “How long have you been having this issue? Is it getting better or worse? Do you have any thoughts on why?” These probing questions will demonstrate that you are truly interested in understanding their situation to the fullest extent. It means you are building credibility with the customer and showing them you care.

This approach takes the conversation to a better level of understanding and often helps the customer discover something they hadn’t seen before. Helping customers understand the cause of their issue helps you understand which solutions to offer – when appropriate – and helps them think through the situation.

3. What is the impact?

Impact questions help to create a sense of urgency about the issue. Now that you more fully understand the problem and how it was caused, it’s time to talk about the possible impact on the business. Ask, “How do you think this issue is having an impact on productivity, customer service, revenue or operating expenses?” When you can help customers understand the impact, they are one step closer to taking action in your direction. When the customer sees the impact of their issues in multiple areas, it’s time to start crafting a viable solution.

You can start to help them see the future in a positive light by asking “what” questions. “What” questions focus on the possibilities. Now you can work with customer as a partner since you have a solid understanding of their issues, how they came about and how those issues are impacting the business.

Good selling is all about going below the surface by asking thoughtful, probing questions that help to uncover the key issues, the root causes and the impact that those most painful issues can have on the customer’s business. As the saying goes, “If you ask better questions, you’ll get better answers.” The best sales professionals have great skill in asking the more significant, thought-provoking questions that make a difference in the customer dialogue.

Prepare to ask questions that your customers will pay attention to and you will be much closer to building the kind of relationships that will lead to more closed sales.

Stu Schlackman is a sales expert, accomplished speaker and the author of “Four People You Should Know” and “Don’t Just Stand There, Sell Something.” With more than 25 years of success in the sales landscape, Schlackman provides his clients and audiences with the wisdom, techniques and practical advice to compete and win in business and in life. For more information, visit