Average Rating: 5.0
Your rating: none

How to Ask Better Questions

Ask better questions

Try this simple sales training excercise

by Troy Harrison

When should you stop training your salespeople? If you answered, “never,” you got the right answer. Training never stops. Effective training for your salespeople should cover your products, your services, and sales technique, and it should be ongoing. In fact, I recommend that you do at least a small training exercise at each weekly sales meeting. (You are doing weekly sales meetings, aren’t you?).

That means that 52 times per year, your salespeople get some level of new knowledge and professional development. Since “inadequate training” is cited as the reason about 70% of the time that salespeople change jobs, good training retains salespeople. I think the reason that sales managers don’t do much training is that the task seems daunting – to come up with new topics every week is seen as a significant demand on the manager’s time.

It doesn’t have to be.

Here’s an exercise that I have always found to be effective, and it’s simple. For a given unit of time – say, 8–10 weeks at a time – each salesperson must come into the meeting with a new question that they have created. This question should be one that customers and/or prospects can be asked on every sales call. Notice that I said “new.” The point of this exercise is to get your salespeople to think about selling, and to think about new ways to get knowledge about your customers that could benefit them in making more sales and building better relationships.

In my opinion, about 80% of your chance to win or lose the sale is determined by the questions you ask – so if you’re asking more and better questions than your competition, you give yourself a big edge on outselling your competition. Challenging your salespeople to be the ones to come up with new questions also involves them and engages them in their own training.

Here’s how this works. On week 1, tell them that for the next X weeks, your focus is going to be on becoming better questioners. In fact, you are going to become the best questioners in your market. Tell them to take five minutes and come up with one potentially great question that they have never asked a customer. After five minutes, they present their question to the group. They should explain why they think it’s a good question and what they think they will accomplish by asking it.

During this time, you should instruct your team to suspend judgement on the questions – this is a criticism-free zone to try things out. Once everyone has presented theirs, then everyone on the team must ask each question the following week at least once (preferably more), and then report back at the following sales meeting how well the questions worked. Take a vote – the good questions become part of your boilerplate questioning structure (again, you do have one of those, right?), and the ineffective ones get discarded. Then repeat the exercise, except that this time, they should already have a new question when they arrive at the meeting.

Do this for at least eight weeks, and your team’s effectiveness at questioning and discovery will go up significantly. How significantly depends on their openness to new knowledge and their creativity in creating questions. You can also take a vote each week on which question worked the best, and whoever came up with it gets some sort of a prize – a restaurant gift card, perhaps.

There are a few things to remember about this program to make it a success. First, no matter how badly you want to, don’t supply your own questions or criticize theirs before the team puts them into real-life action. If you do, it’s just the boss ramming things down their throats. Besides, you’ll be amazed at the quality of questions they come up with. Second, emphasize new question creation, not a regurgitation of what’s already being done. Third, inspect what you expect. Do ride-alongs to see that the new questions are really being asked in live sales calls. Fourth, be prepared to discard some old questions in favor of newer and better ones. In fact, this might be a topic for Weeks 6–8. Besides, market conditions may dictate that questions get modified or discarded over time.

If you do all this, by the end of eight weeks your team’s questioning skills will have gone up exponentially, which means that their sales will go up. You should repeat this exercise at least once per year, to continually refine the questions and skills.

Troy HarrisonTroy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!” and his new book, “The Pocket Sales Manager.” He is a speaker, consultant and sales navigator. He helps companies build more profitable and productive sales forces with his cutting-edge sales training and methodologies. For information on booking speaking/training engagements, consulting, or to sign up for his weekly E-zine, call (913) 645-3603, email, or visit

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2023, Direct Business Media.


Post comment / Discuss story * Required Fields
Your name:
E-mail *:
Comment *: