To uncover your customers needs and business priorities often comes down to effective questioning. Questioning types and techniques is an acquired skill but can be obtained by practice in such a way that does not appear to be a persistent interrogation of your customer.
The purpose of effective questioning is to uncover their needs and priorities and to show you have an interest in their business and what matters to them. It is a critical element in building rapport and one of the best ways is by asking someone to talk about themselves. Your underlying objective is to have them open up to you and provide detail while being comfortable providing answers to your questions. You will need those answers in order to align your commercial pitch to their needs.
Employing a range of questioning types and techniques can lead customers to share detailed responses, reveal deeper insights and create clarity.
Here We Explain 3 Types Of Questions And When And How They Can Be Used To Gather Information:
- BOQ: Big Open Questions. These are usually quite broad and general allowing the customer to talk about themselves or their business openly on broad terms. It enables to you gauge their mood and their style by how they answer. Some examples might be:
“Can you provide some background on your business and your current key priorities?”
“ Could you give me your view on your biggest opportunities today”?
“ I would like to understand some of your challenges. Could you give some idea of these?”
- Probe/follow up questions; These are used to narrow down or hone in on information from the Big Open Questions and demonstrates you are listening and encourages the customer to keep talking while moving you into the business zone. An Example might be:
“You mentioned you are underperforming in the category. What might be the cause(s) for this?”
“ It’s good to hear that you are ahead of your targets YTD. What are the drivers for this?”
- Closed/confirming questions: These questions are used after you have sufficient answers from the BOQ’s and probe/follow up questions and you need to check you have understood them correctly.“So category growth and increased category margin are your two key priorities right now. Is this right?”
“ If I understand correctly, your preference is to work with suppliers who bring innovation to the table?”
(You are seeking a Yes or No to the closed question, checking you are on the right track)
As a rule, 80% of your questions should be open & probing questions and 20% should be closed questions. This questioning method is referred to as ‘Funnelling’.
To employ effective questioning using the ‘Funnelling method’, commence your line of questioning at the top of the ‘funnel’ with open questions. This allows you to gather a broad range of information at the outset. As you move down the ‘funnel’, use follow-up or probing questions requiring your customer to narrow down their response and provide more specific detail. Finally using closed questions provide clarity with a definitive answer at the bottom of the ‘funnel’.
Avoid asking closed questions at the beginning of the discussion as they tend to shut a conversation down resulting in either yes or a no answer with limited or no detail. Closed questions have a place but usually when you need to confirm something.
Lastly, it is important for you to remain quiet whilst the customer is answering your questions. Don’t jump in with solutions too early even if you think you know the answer, let them do the talking. By jumping in you run the risk of missing critical insights and drawing conclusions too early. Ideally your customer should be talking 80% of the time allowing you to collect as much information as possible.