Charles Brennan, Brennan Sales Institute

There are probably few products offered in today’s market that are remarkably different from the competition and that offer significant difference. As a matter of fact, the customer probably assumes both you and the people you compete against will provide relatively the same thing. Therefore, you are being viewed as the same as the competition, almost like a commodity. Of course you want to establish a strong business relationship, separate yourself, stand out, and become a significant partner in the customer’s practice. To make that occur, you need to engage in relevant dialogue.

During my analysis of 20 years of research on the way people communicate, I came across several interesting articles and studies that made me think a little differently about questions, how they are presented, and the way sales people ask them to build and develop relationships. These studies focused on the fact that too many recital questions were being used. 

A recital question is a question that is asked of individuals that gets them to recite what they already know. Educator Meredith Gall suggested that recital questions get someone to recall information that requires little to no thinking. When a customer answers a recital question, he/she recites something they already know and probably have already been asked before in previous conversations. 

Think of all of the questions that were asked prior to reading this. Do your questions fall under the category of recital? If so, is it possible that you might be boring your customers, because you are forcing them to go over the same ground they have been going over with everyone else? How many sales people do you think your customer sees in a day? One salesperson? Two salespeople? Could your customer see as many as 10 salespeople per day? For argument’s sake, why don’t we settle on five salespeople a day? That is 25 a week, 100 per month, and more than 1,000 sales calls and conversations per year. The customer hears the same question hundreds of times and gives the same answer.

So What Makes a Better Question? My research suggests changing from a recital question to a dialogue question. 

Dialogue questions stimulate a complex thinking process, involving a longer exchange that solicits opinion and thought, not just a correct answer. When calling on customers, you want to engage them in dialogue. Your goal is to get them talking at least 70% of the time. Most important, when you ask a dialogue question, you create the possibility of change. And change leads to new thinking. Your goal is to craft a question that gets the customer to stop, reflect, and respond with a new answer.