TALKING SALES 34: “Questioning for credibility and insight”

Insightful QuestionsPhotograph by Kirk Mastin/Getty Images

SteveHallIn this 3 minute interview Steve Hall tells John Smibert how to build credibility by asking well informed and insightful questions.

Steve claims it is vital that we position ourselves with our customers as domain experts – as trusted advisors – and the best way to do that is to display it in the insightful questions we ask.

Our questions should reflect our knowledge and insight and demonstrate that we are a person who is bringing value to the discussion.


Steve is a thought leader in sales. He’s an author and writer, most notably for BRW, and his focus is on helping people sell more effectively at higher margins.

See more of the ‘TALKING SALES’ series here

John: Steve, in the last couple of discussions we’ve talked about getting ourselves in the shoes of the customer, being on their side of the fence and understanding them, and we talked about building rapport. In all of that obviously the way in which we ask questions is very important, and you raised that last time. I’d like to have you elaborate on that a little bit.

Steve: There’s a number of different things you can do with questions. It’s easy to ask questions and get information, and obviously you need to get information. But, let me give you an example. if I come to you and say “John, tell me about your problems?”  I might understand, but you’re going to go through a lot of different areas; I’m not really honing in on what I need to know.

John: And the customers hate that! If you walk in and say “What keeps you awake at night?” – they’re the old selling methods that really turn customers off, aren’t they?

Steve: Absolutely. So, you need to think about the questions that will get you the information, but also you want to ask questions that show that you’re not a neophyte, show that you know something about the subject.

John: Your domain expert.

Steve: Absolutely. I’ll give you an example: I used to sell ERP systems to publishers. If I’d gone into a publisher and said “Tell me about your warehouse!” or “Tell me about returns!” then I would’ve looked an idiot. But, if I went to them and said “Look, I know that other publishers like you are getting 20% returns on their trade books and 15% on academic. Is that the same for you?” Not to get the information I need, but I show I know what I’m talking about.

John: Exactly. Sounds great!

Steve: Yes. So, I think when you’re working out what you need to talk to people about then I think you need to think “Okay. What do I know about the business? What do I need to know to elaborate on what I know.” In other words, what additional information do I need? Not starting from scratch. And that not only gets you the answers that you need, but it also positions you as someone that can have a meaningful conversation with them.

John: I like that concept very much. Positioning while you’re asking questions, showing that you are a domain expert not by telling them you are but by showing it in the types of questions you ask.

Steve: Absolutely. No one likes someone that says “I’m an expert.” but everyone likes someone that shows they’re an expert.

John: Questioning is so important, isn’t it? And on the other side of that, the listening.  Tell me about listening? That’s really important, isn’t it?

Steve: Listening’s very, very important. As I said before, I think one key way to listen, when it’s appropriate, is simply to take notes.

John: Okay. So, the bottom line on this is: we really need to make sure we have very good questions that position us well and that also helps us learn the deep and meaningful things we need to know to build a value proposition for the customer, and we need to listen very carefully and demonstrate that we’re listening.

Steve: Absolutely. It’s called killing two birds with one stone.

John: Good on you, Steve – thanks very much for that!

Steve: Thank you!


See more of the ‘TALKING SALES’ series here


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John leads three related organisations, Custell, Strategic Selling Group and Sales Masterminds APAC. These help B2B selling organisations, who recognise the need to transform their sales capability, to respond to the tsunami of change that is starting to wash over us all. He works with people who recognise that to survive they must more strategically support their customer in their buying journey - and understand that they must become specialists in the customer's domain in order to be of value to them. He also helps sales teams build differentiated personal brands and leverage the digital and social worlds to engage to create trust and value.

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