Like you, I've been selling all my life and what I've learned is, asking good questions and listening effectively are the most powerful selling skills. Unfortunately, the dynamics between sales people and prospects/customers, coupled with tension and old habits makes asking questions and listening very difficult to execute consistently. Yes, many of you will say, you ask questions and listen. However, I contend that most of you ask only cursory questions, listen superficially, and can’t wait to give their pitch.

Questioning has levels -- simple, intermediate and advanced. "How are you?" "Can I help you?" are basic questions. "What's your budget?" "When will you need this?" are more intermediate. "Can we agree that you will order this next Tuesday?" "You seem hesitant. What are your concerns? " are more advanced. To reap the benefits of questioning one must be able to easily transition from the simple to the more advanced.

Effective listening involves understanding, which requires probing to truly comprehend what a person means by the words they speak. For example, when a person says, "I'm looking for someone who can give me good service." The words good service could mean all sorts of things. The effective listener will probe the prospect to explain what good service actually looks like to him or her. Probing encourages the prospect to fully reveal the vision of what s/he wants. This requires skill, preparation and patience. Finally, effective listening means the ability to recite back to the customer exactly what they just described. This solidifies understanding and builds credibility.

So here are some tips on how to pull off these difficult tasks.

1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Before a sales call decide what you wants to learn, i.e. budget, purchase date, decision-making process, etc. You must also build questions to get the prospect to open up and explain exactly what they want and why they want it. Once these questions are prepared, role-play asking them with an associate or practice alone in front of a mirror and out loud. You may think this is unnecessary, but ask any public speaker how they prepare. They all practice out loud in order exercise the muscles that form the words, and to hear how it sounds. Doing it in your head just doesn’t work. That’s why athletes and teams warm-up and practice before a competition.

2. Determine What Words Are Importance to You

What words do customers and prospects use when describing their needs to you. Which words should they be using to describe the kinds of pain or opportunity that your products/services can impact? These are the words you want to be sensitive to hearing. When a prospect uses them, you want to be sure to probe them for meaning. You also want to probe words that are ambiguous, such as dependable, low price, etc. Don’t assume to know what people mean or you’ll do both you and the prospect a disservice. However, before you can become comfortable probing, which sounds simple, you need to list all the words that have meaning in your products’/services’ world. Again, this may sound unnecessary, but until you go through the drill, these words will slide by you – as they do right now.

3. Just Do It

Now you know what you want to learn. You have your questions prepared that will get the prospect to open up and speak freely about the purchase. You know what words to listen for. Now just go out and ask, listen, and probe. Sounds basic, but this is where you integrate your style and personality. You’ll have to determine how you'll set up these questions, how you’ll transition into your probes and how you’ll feed it back to confirm understanding and meanings. The first few times will seem uncomfortable, but it'll quickly become second nature as you start seeing the outstanding results you get. So just go out and do it and you'll adjust accordingly to make it work smoothly.

4. Assess

How well did your meeting go? In other words, what went well, that you will do again in the future? What didn't work and needs to be adjusted? Sales calls should never be judged on outcome alone. They should be judged against your plan. For example, your plan is to ask questions to get specific information and to understand the customer's vision. Did your questions work? Were you able to probe meaningful and ambiguous words? Did the customer respond as you had hoped to the questions you asked? Were other words used that you weren't prepared to hear? These are the kinds of questions you should ask yourself and adjust your game plan for the next call.

5. Use a Coach

No one can coach themselves -- not Tiger Woods, nor Kobe Bryant, nor Derek Jeter, etc. They all have coaches that help them prepare, improve their skills and see things they can not see for themselves. Salespeople are no different. They need coaches -- someone to help them prepare and get better. Managers are usually assigned to this task, but many managers focus on closing business rather than improving their performers. Like relatives, you can't choose your manager, but you can choose someone to help you. Most salespeople feel that if they're employed they’re good enough. This is like telling a professional football player not to exercise during the off-season. A professional who wants to stay on top of his or her game needs to be constantly improving. As mentioned above, you can't do this without the help of a coach.

Use these tips to improve your questioning, listening and probing skills, and you'll soon be outselling your associates and your competitors.

And now I invite you to learn more.

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Author's Bio: 

Sam Manfer is an expert sales person, entertaining key note speaker and author of TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER$, a book that gets C-Level and other influential decision-makers to meet with you and return voicemails. Sam makes it easy for any sales person to generate tons of quality leads, and become a 70% closer. Sign-Up for Sam’s FREE Advanced Sales Training Tips and Articles at