with permission of Patrick Tinney, Managing Partner, centroidmarketing.com, the Author of the new business book “Unlocking Yes: Sales Negotiation Lessons & Strategy”
“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, require creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”
- Albert Einstein
A leading question is a question so worded as to suggest the proper or desired answer. If you’ve watched a crime or courtroom movie scene you would have heard a million leading questions and some of these questions are so rhetorical that we almost groan when we hear them. A leading questions example would be “would you agree Mrs. Defendant that your nose has two nostrils?” Or… “Would you say Mr. Witness that ears are generally used for listening?” Groan!
As a young sales professional growing up in the newspaper business I was surrounded and trained by some of the smartest sales people in the business skilled at asking leading questions. Many of these sales thought leaders knew that if they didn’t get the customer moving in the right direction in a sales negotiation the whole discussion could derail and they would not get a deal done and collect their sales commission.
Learning from these quizzical greats was infectious and fun. It was also deadly serious. We all knew that if we could not draw the customer into our zone of potential agreement (ZOPA) with great questions our quarterly bonuses could be in question.
So why are leading questions so important? The answer is simple. We use leading questions in sales negotiations to create much needed constructive momentum. This is especially true in large dollar volume negotiations. Leading questions allow us to create a channel of positive responses or ‘yes’s” from the customer. In a sales negotiation, it is important to get the customer used to saying yes so when the critical closing portion of a sales negotiation comes front and center the word yes is not foreign or awkward. The customer has said the word yes so many times to leading questions that “yes” is just a continuation of a conversation rather than a lightning point.
One of the best ways to start leading questions in a sales negotiation is to talk about the relationship, history, past success or common objectives that a customer and sales person have or will both benefit from. Here is a solid list of sales negotiation leading questions:
- Isn’t it great that our two companies have such a long and constructive history?
- Would you agree that our last negotiation was right on point?
- Do you believe that working collaboratively on this deal will bring us both to a win/win agreement?
- Could we say that our relationship has always been the basis for our on-going ability to close solid contracts?
The neat thing about all of the above questions is that on the surface they are innocuous. The questions are meant to put the customer at ease while paving the way to meatier questions further down steam in the negotiation. These non-threatening questions while leading to effortless “yes’s” on the customer’s part also confirm that there are no underlying problems with the customer’s perception of our on-dealings and performance.
If you want to put a little more edge on a leading question to a customer you might go with the following. “You don’t want to miss budget do you?” This leading question will really perk your customer up!
If for any reason the customer responds counter-intuitively to any of the above questions it is time to slow the negotiation down and ask deeper amour piercing questions to address any concerns the customer has about the negotiation. This is a critical point because if the customer wants to air some objections or complaints, this is the time to catch them and listen to them closely. Remember, no matter how small the issue or objection the customer has, we must take the time to hear them out. As intelligent business people we all want to be heard and reassured that the decisions we are about to make are the smartest and best available.
So get working on your leading questions! And, here’s to guiding your sales negotiations to wise and profitable closure! “It’s fun to sign large deals….wouldn’t you say?”
“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”- Voltaire
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