You’ve Been Framed!

By Heather Baldwin

Your sales reps know they should be asking good questions to win sales, but do they know how to ask their questions? After all, questions are not created equal. Posing a straightforward query in the hopes of getting a straightforward answer probably won’t work, says Stephen Schiffman in his new book, Ask Questions, Get Sales: Close the Deal and Create Long-Term Relationships (Adams Media, 2005). A more effective way to draw information out of your prospects, he says, is to use framed questions that are designed to get you contradicted.

Say, for example, you want to know which companies you’re competing against for the prospect’s business. Simply asking who is your competition for the order likely will come off as too blunt and Sales 101-ish. Instead, Schiffman suggests, propose an option you believe the prospect will correct such as: So are you working with Acme Metalworks on quotes for this job? You may well get a response such as: Acme? No, no, they’re way too small for a job like this. So far, we’ve worked up quotes with ABC Corp. and Bateman Supply. Now you have the information you were looking for in the first place.

Here’s another example. Instead of inquiring point-blank whether your prospect is the decision maker for the work, try asking: So will Don be making the decision on advertising? You’ll get either: No, I make all the advertising decisions. Or the response might be: No, Sarah Johnson is making those decisions now. Either way, you’ll get the information you’re looking for without seeming too blunt.

The key to using framing questions successfully is that you have to be willing to make mistakes that the prospect corrects to point you in the right direction. “You can’t be intimidated by the idea of being corrected or fearful of posing a question because you think it may expose a gap in your knowledge base,” says Schiffman. “The whole point is to expose as many gaps as possible in your knowledge and then get the prospect to help fill them.”