"Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers," Voltaire wrote over 200 years ago. So true, especially early in the sales process, as you and your prospect get to know one another. That's when asking one important question can expand your discussion as well as uncover and deepen your understanding of the problems at hand, according to Mike McLaughlin in The Guerrilla Consultant newsletter. That question: "How do you know that is the problem?"

"The best consultants, and the top services sellers, resist the urge to talk about what they will do until they understand how the client identified the problem," says McLaughlin. One reason, he says, is that "clients respect the honest skeptic. Once you accept a client's assertion of any problem at face value, you've elected to place the sale above the need to solve the right problem."

Taking the time to validate your client's analysis can also help you develop a stronger diagnosis. What's more, "effective 'how' questions examine a problem from multiple angles," says McLaughlin. For example:

"How well does [a process] work?"
"How effectively do people and processes work together?"
"How thoroughly do people know what to do?"
"How appropriate is the work flow design?"
"How promptly do workers get the help they need?"
"How satisfied are people with the performance of the processes and systems they use?"

The Po!nt: Asking the right questions during the sales process can heighten your understanding of, and demonstrate your competence and commitment to solving, your client's biggest problems.

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