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The Art of Extracting Information

JAN 4, 2012 10:46am ET
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Successful selling almost always requires the salesperson to obtain information from the prospect to facilitate a sale.  Regardless of your product or service, obtaining insightful facts about the prospect’s needs, concerns and desires should serve as a guide on how to accomplish a favorable outcome. The problem that always presents itself is determining how to effectively probe and extract information without sounding like a C.I.A. interrogator whose next question might involve waterboarding.

First, determine what information you require to make a relevant and effective sales presentation. This presentation should be tailored to the prospect’s specific needs and/or requirements. As an example, you might have the lowest interest rate (good luck with that one—it presumes you know what everyone else is offering) on a mortgage loan.

You gear your entire presentation around this feature and are amazed when your prospect doesn’t jump all over themselves to give you the loan application. Had you probed effectively for information, you would have determined that an expeditious closing is what’s most important, not the interest rate.

Basically, there are three questioning techniques to utilize in obtaining information.

First, is to ask closed-ended questions (usually answered with a “yes” or “no”). “Do you have a job?" “Yes.” “Have you committed mass murder in the last two years?” “No.”

A second technique is asking multiple-choice questions. “Do you have a job or are you unemployed?” “I have a job.” “Have you had the job for more than two years or less than two years?”  “Less than two years.”  

The third, and most effective way to probe for information is to do so conversationally. In the above situation I would ask, “Why don’t you tell me something about your employment history?” The prospect’s reply might be, “I’ve a been doing brain surgery for the last year or so. Prior to that I was a Realtor.” (In this marketplace, that’s not an uncommon job history.)

I think you get the point. In the last example the prospect isn’t made uncomfortable by feeling interrogated, but rather, is participating in a conversation about employment.

Another great phrase when first initiating contact is, “Why don’t you tell me exactly what you’re trying to accomplish.” This is your opportunity to take control of the meeting.  Slow it down.  Let the prospect clearly understand the question and, more importantly, think about an appropriate answer.  Then, wait.  Be silent.  Too often we are quick to fill the silence by rewording our question or extending its scope.  Be quiet.  Silence is a powerful thing. 

Let’s look at this in action. A classic encounter is a prospect asking a loan originator, “What’s your interest rate on a 30-year fixed rate loan?” Most salespeople will blindly begin discussing interest rates.

Having been trained by the sales guru, Steve Greenberg, your reply will not mention rates. You’ll say, “Why don’t you tell me exactly what you’re trying to accomplish.” You might hear, “I’m purchasing a second home in Afghanistan and would like to do it with no cash out-of-pocket.” Your presentation will now proceed differently and the prospect will appreciate its relevance and value.

To be effective in sales you must be prepared for every conceivable opportunity. Do you know what information you want and are you versed in how to probe effectively to collect what’s needed? One definition of a sale is when preparation meets opportunity! Prepare yourself to have informative, relevant conversations and you will maximize your results and success.

Stephen Greenberg is the founder and CEO of Synergistic Associates, Inc., a national sales training and coaching organization.  For a free consultation, or any questions,  Steve can be contacted at steveg@synergisticassoc.com or (954)757-6585.

Comments (1)
I could read a book about this wituhot finding such real-world approaches!
Posted by | Friday, January 13 2012 at 7:37PM ET
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