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A warm welcome to the Year of the Monkey!


Apart from that, it might be all bad news as the economy for 2016 might not be as fantastic as it used to be.  For many companies, that could mean downsizing and retrenchment.  For other companies, it could also mean going after new customers, who might be the competitors' current customers.


Part of the challenge to develop new customers is to find out what the customer is thinking, and explore potential needs.  The challenge within that challenge is: many customers may not be willing to share those information with you


Hence, this month's topics:

  1. How to Find Out Anything from Your Customers; and

  2. Why You Should Ask Questions Like A 2-Year Old

This issue's main article is on "How to Find Out Anything from Your Customers", and we explore what are some effective questioning techniques to get to the truth of what your customer is thinking.


In brief:

  • Why despite being trained in sales questioning techniques, many sales people still could not get the answers they want from their customers;

  • How to prepare and structure your questions so that you make your customers comfortable providing you with answers.

  • How to develop a questioning strategy that gives with well-rounded answers and insights from your customer.   Read on... ...

To read the rest of this newsletter, pls. click here ( 

How to Find Out Anything from Your Customers

by c.j. Ng


Chris was a former Sales Support Engineer whom had just join to become a sales person recently.


Just like all sales people, Chris went through a typical sales training workshop to get him up to speed with the required selling skills.  And just like all typical sales training, there was an emphasis on asking questions to find out customers' needs, and then suggest the right solutions to fulfil those needs.

The premise for asking questions are very simple:

  1. Ask more open questions than close questions, as open questions will get customers share more information;

  2. Start by asking about the customer's situation, then gradually narrow down to general needs, to specific needs, to understanding the consequences of not fulfilling those needs, and finally the benefits or pay-offs for being able to fulfil those needs.

After a few rounds of role plays, Chris felt confident enough to take the plunge and do some serious probing of customers' needs.


Chris started out by asking questions, "Hi, I'd like to find out what are some possible needs you have for our products?"  It was an open question, and Chris felt it should be a good start.


"No need," came the replies, as was the case for most of the customers.  For the remaining few who are willing give a different answer, they in turn asked Chris a question, "How much does your product cost?"


And Chris duly answered, "Oh, the price range is from $x to $y, depending on your quantities and level of customisation."


"Too expensive," came the answer.


After facing a number of rejections despite asking open questions, Chris felt demoralised.  He starts to wonder if he had made the right choice switching from a Technical Sales Support role, to a sales role.


Getting Better Responses from the Questions You Ask


If the customer is not familiar with the sales person, it is very likely that the customer is going to be very wary about answering your questions.  They are not too sure if whatever they say might be used in your favour, against them.


Hence, it might make sense to start with a Purposeful Opening Statement, just to let the customer understand that it is very much also in their favour if you can get some insights for your questions, such as:


"I'd like to find out if there are effective ways to achieve lesser downtime for your production.  Is it OK that I ask a few questions to understand your situation?"


Some things to note in the above Purposeful Opening Statement:

  1. We DON'T ask if the customer needs our products or services.  Instead, we ask them if we could help them achieve, resolve or avoid something.

  2. We seek the customer's permission to proceed and ask them more questions.  And we do so using a short and simple closed question.

  3. Make your Purposeful Opening Statement as clear and concise as possible.

Now that we get permission to proceed, we go to the next phase, which is to understand the customer's current situation.  Most sales people perceive this wrongly by asking:

  • If the customer is asking is happy or unhappy with their current supplier (of which the customer will say they are happy regardless of how they actually feel); and

  • If the customer has a current need for your products and solutions (in which case, their needs are going to be in the future, if they have a need anyway);

The real crux of understanding the customer's situation, are to:

  • Be genuinely curious about what the customer is doing, and have a sincere appreciation of their achievements

  • Develop insights and gain a deep understanding about the customer's business

  • Be a good listener, not just about what the customer said, but also what are some of the non-verbal signals that the customer might be transmitting to you

Some examples of situational questions may include:

  • "How do you go about developing new products?"

  • "What are the various actions you take to ensure zero defects?"

  • "What are some of your best selling products?  What makes them sell so well?"

  • "How long is your typical production cycle?"

  • "How do you manage your inventory levels in the case of fluctuating market demands?"

While these questions might not help pinpoint to you the specific needs the customers might have, it gives you the context of what the customer is doing, and also allows the customer to build trust and rapport by sharing some information of what they do.


The Difference Between Where You Are, and Where You Want to Be


As the main purpose of asking questions in sales is to find out the needs of the customer, then the customer's "needs" can be defined as


"The Difference between Where You are, and Where You Want to Be"


The mistake that most sales people make is to ask the customer if they need our products or solutions.  Unfortunately, customers don't have any needs for our products or solutions unless they know we can help them get from where they are now, to where they want to be.


Hence, we don't start with asking customers what products or solutions they want.  We probe into areas where the customer may not be entirely happy about, and explore ways that will give them a better result.


Some sales people understand this principle, and ask the customer questions such as:

  • "So how are your current suppliers doing?"

  • "What is the current price you are getting?" OR

  • "What are the areas that are not performing well in your operations?"

Asking such questions will only get customers to give a non-answer (e.g. "oh, we are quite happy with our current suppliers" or "That will be confidential information")


Instead, you will need to structure your questions from multiple angles to get to some real and hidden needs that your customers might have.


Developing Your Questioning Strategy

Unlike what most sales training will advocate, your questioning strategy will be a lot more complex than merely asking to find out about problems, negative consequences of not solving those problems, and the pay-offs or positive results of solving those same problems.

To start with, you may want to structure your questions to cover various aspects that you would like to find out about customers.  Here are some angles that you may want to consider:

  1. Questions to understand more about the customer’s current business situation;

  2. Questions to understand the customer’s selection criteria;

  3. Questions to understand about the customer’s product needs;

  4. Questions to ask to progress the sale;

  5. Questions to ask ONLY when finalising the deal

And here are some examples:

  • Questions to understand more about the customer’s current business situation:

    • How is business? How will business be in the next 1-2 years?

    • What are some key initiatives the company will be implementing this year?

    • What are some new products that you will be launching in the near future

    • What are some areas that you would like to be improved? Why are those important?

  • Questions to understand the customer’s selection criteria:

    • If you were to work with a new supplier, what will be some of your criteria?

    • What else is important? Why?

    • If we are able to provide better stability of quality and delivery cycles, how will that impact your business?

  • Questions to understand about the customer’s product needs:

    • What are some of the specs required?

    • What will be some of the key objectives that must be achieved?

    • What key areas of support do you need? What else?

    • Between price and consistent quality, which will be MORE important to you?

    • What will be your biggest priorities?  Productivity, reducing defects or developing new products quickly?

  • Questions to ask to progress the sale:

    • To sum up, this is what we have discussed. Is that right? Do you have anything to add?

    • Who else should we involve in our future discussions?

    • What could be some of your concerns with regard to our proposed solution?

    • What do suggest will be our next steps?

  • Questions to ask ONLY when finalising the deal:

    • How much quantities do you need? And by when?

    • What will be your payment terms?

    • When would you like to start?

The list of questions does not stop here for your questioning strategy.  At times, you may ask more or fewer number of questions, depending on whom you are meeting, as well as the context of your meeting.

Whatever it is, no matter how experienced you are as a sales person, you cannot simply "wing it" and enter a sales meeting unprepared with the questions you want to ask.  You will need to  plan ahead with at least a few questions to cover the various aspects that you would want to discuss with your customer.


Need help in finding out whatever your customer is willing or unwilling to share with you? Simply e-mail or call +86-21-6219 0021 or WeChat: cydj001 and arrange to have a deeper discussion.

Power Breakfast Hour: 10 Mar 2016

How to Find Out Anything from Your Customers

  • Why despite being trained in sales questioning techniques, many sales people still could not get the answers they want from their customers;

  • How to prepare and structure your questions so that you make your customers comfortable providing you with answers.

  • How to prepare and structure your questions so that you make your customers comfortable providing you with answers. How to develop a questioning strategy that gives with well-rounded answers and insights from your customer.   Read on... ...

VENUE: Crowne Plaza Shanghai • 400 Panyu Road (near Fahuazhen Road) • 上海银星皇冠酒店 • 番禺路 400 号 (靠法华镇路)


DATE: Thursday, 10 Mar 2016


TIME: 08:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.




To make this a more conducive discussion, we are expecting a small group of about 15 people only. The room can only take in 18, so please register early to avoid disappointments. Please e-mail your registrations too


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Tips for Questioning Techniques:
Why You Should Ask Questions Like A 2-Year Old


by James O. Pyle and Maryann Karinch


Interviewing candidates centers on a conversation — a give and take. Your ability to question well supports the organization, competence, and rapport building skills that you bring to that conversation. There are some specific ways to sharpen that ability.

To get an overview of the process, consider this mnemonic device, which reinforces the critical elements of good questioning.


2 + 6 over F x 4 = Good Questioning


The parts mean this:

  • Question with the curiosity of a two-year-old

  • Use the six interrogatives: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How

  • Lay that on top of follow-up

  • Make sure to cover all four of the discovery areas: people, places, things, and events in time

This may appear simplistic, but after countless hours of analyzing questioning techniques of White House correspondents, senior executives, criminal lawyers, and many other professionals who have a reputation for asking good questions, the results were shocking. It seems there’s often an inverse relationship between professional stature and the ability to question well. The likely reason is that highly accomplished people tend to store so much in their minds, and require such an abundance of information to do their jobs well, that their questions lack clarity. They reflect agendas and assumptions. They ask for more than one fact at a time. As a result of such convoluted questioning styles, the answers they get often frustrate them: They are incomplete or misleading.

Follow the equation and you will see immediate improvements in your interviewing.

Think like A Two-Year Old

Jim begins classes teaching interrogators how to question with the same scenario. It begins with the class being told to pretend they are two years old and about to see a picture of someone for the first time. And then they see Santa Claus:

“Who’s that?”

“That’s Santa Claus. And he’s coming to your house.”

“Why is he coming to my house?”

“To bring you something.”

“What will he bring?

“Toys. But he’s only coming on one special night.”

“When is he coming?”

“Christmas Eve. And not only is he coming to your house and he’s going to all the houses where children live all over the world — all in one night!”

“How can he do that?”

The very sight of the jolly fat man brings out the kid in almost everyone. Anyone who genuinely commits to a two-year-old mentality will probably not deviate from good questions in the Santa Claus exchange.

Use the Interrogatives

A good question should start with an interrogative: Who, What, When, Where, Why. “Do you…”  “Are you…”  “Would you…” and other variations require a one-word answer only: “Yes” or “No.”  An interview is designed to engage a candidate, so narrative responses are essential.  Asking a yes-or-no question may get a person talking, but only because he or she instinctively knows that you want more than a yes or no. In other words, if you ask a question like that, you immediately surrender a certain amount of control over the dialogue.  This is precisely what those White House correspondents do wrong in press conferences, with the predictable result being that the President talks about whatever he wants to talk about.


Once you ask a good question and you get an answer, you cannot assume that you got a complete answer, or that what you just heard was the only answer.  As Jim has told thousands of human intelligence collection students, “After you get an answer, ask that question again.”  Particularly with a key question such as, “What work experience qualifies you for the position available?”  The first answer may be a rephrasing of language in the job description, hyperbole related to a previous job, or wishful thinking, that is, an answer that the candidate hopes will delight you.

There are two types of questions that allow you to do the proper follow up without sounding like someone who wasn’t listening: Repeat and Persistent.

Repeat Type Questioning

With repeat questions, you come at the same information in two different ways. For example, if you asked, “How many times did you manage trade show logistics for your company?” the person you’re speaking with might respond, “Seven.”  Later on, when you’re talking with him about trade shows, you might ask, “What was the toughest challenge you had each time you managed logistics for your company?”  If he responds by telling you about four challenges, you might wonder why you weren’t hearing about seven.  It’s not an absolute test, but it either gives value and credence to what he said before, or should prompt more questioning about his experience.

Persistent Type Questioning

In any exchange in which more than one answer might be given to a question, use persistent questioning to get a complete answer.  Like repeat questions, persistent questions are also useful if you suspect that the person is not being truthful.

“Where did you travel for your company in a sales capacity?” might elicit the answer, “The West Coast.”  Although it’s possible that the West Coast is the only place, it’s logical to follow that question with, “Where else?” Bypassing that repeat question and going straight to questions about where she made West Coast sales calls means that you miss the opportunity to get a complete picture of your candidate’s sales experience in the field unless that information happens to leak out at some other time.

Cover All the Discovery Areas

Go into the interview with questions that cover people, places, things, and events in time.  By considering what you might need to know in all four discovery areas, you are less likely to miss asking about important topics.

For example, if you ask the candidate about a project that she has labelled a key accomplishment in her career, you might hear details about where it occurred, what the deliverables were, and how long it took to complete.  By adding a people-oriented question — “Who were your stakeholders on this project?” — you might elicit a much clearer sense of how she perceived the mission of the project.

To find out how you can achieve results for your questioning techniques, be that for sales, hiring or performance reviews, you can e-mail or call +86-21-6219 0021 or WeChat: cydj001

Directions Management Consulting


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