How The Right Questions Lead To Sales Innovation

Across hundreds of sales organizations, we’ve consistently found that the most effective sales teams aren’t the ones telling the customer what they can do. The best sales teams ask the customer relevant questions, and then determine what the customer should do. They do their homework and they approach the customer’s challenge from multiple perspectives – with questions, not assertions.

To start, you can ask questions related to your customer’s challenge, specifically in terms of financial performance, its markets, its products, and resources. These questions deal with the business’s priorities.

  1. Financial challenges apply to the customer’s growth or profitability, either overall or in specific areas. Often, this appears be the customer’s main challenge and it’s usually the topic the customer talks about most.
  2. Market challenges refer to issues the customer has in specific segments or geographies. Ask your team: are there specific challenges the customer is trying to address for certain markets? Does the customer want to deal with a certain geography or customer segment that may be feeding into that challenge?
  3. From a product or service standpoint, what is your customer trying to accomplish?  Is the customer’s challenge being driven by any priorities that can be solved with certain products or services?
  4. Resources are the customer’s challenges relative to talent and organizational capabilities. How can your sales coverage model and your organization’s pool of knowledge contribute to addressing the overall challenge?

The right questions help to clarify the customer’s problem – for both you and the customer. For example, if your customer thinks he has a problem with growth in a particular product category, the right questions – around financial, market, product, and resources goals and limitations – can help you dig deeper and uncover whether another problem lies hidden underneath.

The answers you receive from those questions are very valuable information. They help you to re-define the customer’s problem. Is it really a growth problem, as your customer suspects? Or is it a problem with that customer’s resources (talent, supplier capabilities, etc.) that are in fact inhibiting his growth? Or, perhaps conditions have changed in the overall market, affecting growth.

Re-defining the customer’s problems does several things:

  1. It gives you the opportunity to really listen and respond to your customer. You’re not just shoving samples at him.
  2. It differentiates you from competitors who ARE shoving samples at him.
  3. Finally, it gives you the chance to actually solve his problem.

Addressing superficial needs might temporarily solve the problem. Addressing the root cause of the problem has a better shot at a long-term solution, and a long-term relationship with that customer.

How can re-defining the customer’s problem help your customer?


Last week I discussed how innovation and sales work together. Contact me at with any questions.