Four Powerful Questions to Help You Unlock Sales

Three Business People Having a Sales Conversation with Laptop Computer
Successful sales conversations always start with asking the right questions.

My friend and fellow speaker Andrew Sobel is a leading authority on developing and sustaining long-term client relationships. He has authored over eight acclaimed and bestselling books on the subject. Early in Andrew’s career, I was his speech coach. Now as a speaker, Andrew’s message is especially relevant to companies that need to standout in increasingly crowded markets. I always remind people, “Sales conversations are most effective when they are focused on your client’s concerns – not on the product or service you provide.” Asking the right questions is the only way to understand your client’s concerns. I share this excellent article from Andrew on the subject:

Ask, Don’t Tell: Using Power Questions to Unlock the Sale
by Andrew Sobel

Do you ever find that you are slogging through meeting after meeting with a prospect, month after month, without reaching a sale? You have lots of conversations, but there is no forward progress. In the current economy, lots of sales conversations go on without ever arriving anywhere. You can avoid this by asking a series of incisive questions that help you verify if the preconditions for a sale are present.

The first precondition for a sale is that there must be a significant perceived problem or opportunity. If there isn’t, why would anyone hire you?

To ascertain whether a truly significant problem or opportunity exists, you should ask questions like: “What is this costing you right now?”; “If you don’t fix this problem, what will the consequences be?”; “What do you think this opportunity is worth to your organization?”; “What other issues is this causing for you?”; “Would you say this is one of your top two or three priorities?” And so on.

A second precondition is that you must be speaking to someone who owns the problem and is empowered by their organization to fix it. In big companies, there are always lots of problems—and plenty of people willing to talk about them. But unless you are talking to the owner of the issue, that’s all you’ll do—talk.

Questions you can use here might include: “Who owns this problem?”; “Are you responsible for fixing this?”; “Who would authorize an expenditure to address this?”; “Who needs to be involved in the solution?”; and “Who would lead the implementation of a solution?”

A third precondition is that the buyer must have a healthy dissatisfaction with the current rate of change or improvement. The client may have a problem, and it may be significant—but they will not bring on a new service provider or supplier unless they are unhappy with progress or current solutions. Questions that can help to ascertain this would include: “Would you say this is a minor irritant, at one end of the scale, or something you’re truly fed up with, at the other end?”; “Why do you feel that now is the time to put extra resources against this?”; “What solutions have been tried already?”; and “How effective have your own efforts been to address this? Why or why not?”

Finally, a fourth precondition is that the client must trust you are the best resource for the job—better than your competitors and better than internal efforts. How do you determine this? This is harder than the other preconditions, because it’s difficult to ask someone point-blank if they trust you! More likely, you’ll sense a hesitation or reluctance. Nonetheless, you can questions such as “What other solutions are you looking at?”; “How do you view our capabilities in this area?”; “How do you see your alternatives right now?”; and, “What concerns do you have about us or our approach?”

The prospect you are talking to may have had ten other meetings on the same day. If you want to be memorable, be bold about asking incisive, thought-provoking questions that demonstrate you’re a peer and help you ascertain if the client is truly ready to buy.

Sales Expert, Author, and Speaker, Andrew Sobel
Sales Expert, Author, and Speaker, Andrew Sobel

Andrew Sobel helps companies and individuals build their clients for life and has worked for 31 years as both a strategy advisor to senior management and an executive educator and coach. His popular and bestselling books include, Power Relationships, Power Questions, Building C-Suite Relationships, All for One, Making Rain, and Clients for Life. For more information and to download a free set of Power Tools to help you get better at asking Power Questions visit:

Thank you Andrew!  As an executive speech coach my clients include, professional speakers, business leaders, public figures, celebrities, and sales teams facing do-or-die presentations. Now, anyone can work with me virtually through Fripp Virtual Training.  I invite you to take advantage of a free seven-day trial of FrippVT.

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How to Make A Sale by Making Your Questions Count,” “How You Can Solve ‘Who Cares?’ Syndrome in Your Sales Presentations,” “There Are No Shortcuts to Effective Sales Conversations,” and “Are You Making Any of These 12 Biggest Mistakes Commonly Made in Sales Presentations?” are just a few of the many complimentary resources on to help you with your sales success.

Executive Speech Coach and Hall of Fame Keynote Speaker Patricia Fripp works with individuals and companies who realize that powerful, persuasive presentation skills give them a competitive edge.