Questioning Skills

Guidelines for asking questions

In your role as an intermediary, one of the most important tasks is to ask questions that cause your client to consider possibilities they have not yet explored. Questioning opens the door to understanding your client better. Asking relevant questions is like holding up a mirror to their actions and decisions so that they can see for themselves whether it is the right thing to do.

The best way of obtaining information, understanding the client’s needs, testing his or her knowledge and establishing what his or her expectations are, is by asking questions (probing). The assumption is maybe, that as an intermediary you should have all the answers. In our fast changing environment, it sometimes becomes impossible to have all the answers.

Of course, selling requires persuasiveness. However, today it is a new persuasiveness based on positive energy generated by the intermediary and client. Today, answers are built with the client, not spray-painted on them.

Questions can be used to obtain information or to initiate a conversation. It is essential that you, as an intermediary, are able to use these methods so that you can take charge of your interview, as and when you deem necessary.

Intermediaries today must get to know their clients better and deeper than ever before. You need to go in with partially formulated ideas, ask questions early, and truly partner with the client – in short, really put being client-focused into practice.

The way in which we phrase questions to draw out information from your clients is crucial. Do not use leading questions like, “Don’t you understand that by selling our products…?” or “Don’t you agree?” Questioning is therefore an important skills that is needed in communicating successfully. There are various types of questions that we can use to gather information with, stimulate conversation, getting your client thinking, reasoning questions, decision-making questions, open ended questions, closed questions, alternative choice questions, relationship questions, operational questions, knowledge questions, problem questions, need questions, interpersonal questions, extrapolation questions, analysis questions, strategic questions, etc.

In this section, we will be discussing the various types of questions, when to use them to achieve the best effect.

However, asking questions will not promote communication if one of the parties feels that he or she is being cross-examined. It takes skill to create a dialogue so that the process does not become an inquisition. It requires skill to ask the right questions in the right way. If you come across in an aggressive manner, the client will tend to conduct him or herself in a defensive manner and he or she will simply “clam up”.

Nature and Sequence of Questions

Part of the challenge of questioning is to understand what questions to ask and in what order. In choosing questions, there is no absolute rule, but clues will come from the client:

  • What do you already know about the client?
  • What comments has the client made?
  • What is the knowledge level of the client?
  • What is the relationship with the client?

In general, some guidelines for sequencing questions are:

  • Start with general questions;
  • Move to more specific questions;
  • Begin with situational questions;
  • Then go to more strategic questions;
  • For each topic, determine status, issue, implications, concerns and objectives; and
  • Learn how much a priority each issue is and for whom.

Emphasis will vary from client to client. The more senior the clients, the more strategic the questions will be.