In school we’re taught it’s the answers we give that matter most – the fastest hand raised is most often praised as being the brightest and best. The objective is to give the correct answer as fast as possible.

But is it the answers we have and how fast we offer them the truest sign of intelligence?Is answering questions quickly what matters most?

Having a fast answer to a question is a sure sign of intelligence — you have to be smart to answer correctly first, but it’s not a wise decision if you’re dealing with prospective customers.

When you’re in a conversation with a prospective customer the questions you ask have more value, certainly in the early stages of a sales opportunity — both for you and your prospect.

The questions you ask:

  • build credibility
  • demonstrate understanding
  • position your offer
  • pigeonhole your competition
  • surface critical account information
  • uncover biases
  • discover the buying process
  • identify which competitors are poking around the account

The reason questions are so critical as opposed to giving answers is because answers put the emphasis on the seller, not the buyer. Questioning focuses on the buyer — drawing from them the issues that matter most to them, their concerns, environment, biases, and opportunities.

Through questions, the seller better understands the driving mechanism leading the sales opportunity and discovers the positioning necessary to win their prospect’s business.

Stephen Covey said it best in the colossal best seller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleSeek first to understand, then to be understood. Doing so increases your chance of being heard and in my experience leads to greater sales success.

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. Covey warns that giving out advice before having empathetically understood a person and their situation will likely result in rejection of that advice. Thoroughly reading out your own autobiography will decrease the chance of establishing a working communication.


Questioning and its cousin Active Listening are the second most important sales skill of them all.  Understanding your prospective customer is what creates the sales opportunity and allows you to position your offering.

What do you think?


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