Crucial Questions to Superior Sales

When your customers aren't sure which of your products or services they should buy, consider this handy tool that not only helps create clarity, but also positions you as a trusted advisor. I'm referring to a time-test sales tool known as SWOT. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. When I do customer service and sales seminars and speeches for groups, I often hear this is one of the most useful tools people learn. Here's how to ask SWOT questions.

Explain to your customer that every customer is different and you want to come up with a solution to suit their unique needs. Then explain that you'd like to ask them a few questions to help them narrow the field. Now ask these SWOT questions:

S - Strengths

"When you think about other products/services in this category that you've used in the past, what have you liked about them?" If, for example, you're a travel agent discussing vacation options with a client, ask them where they've vacationed before and what they liked about it. If you're a hairstylist, ask the customer about the last time they loved their hairstyle and what they liked about it. Starting with strengths about current and past purchase helps the customer clarify what's important to them. And it shows that you are not threatened by discussing the positive aspects of your competitors' products and services. In your customers' view, this alone makes you different than other sales people who want to run-down the competition. It's a generous way to start building trust at the outset.

W - Weaknesses

"What have you not liked about those previous products/services?" Again, the customer is not only clarifying in their own mind what they don't want, they are also telling you the flaws of the competition. Much better that this comes from the customer than from you. Any time you point out your competitor's faults you expose yourself to three negatives: 1) the customer disagrees with your negative assessment; in which case they no longer trust your judgment. 2) Even if you're right about your competitor's weakness the customer may not appreciate you running-down the competition behind their backs. It looks like a cheap-shot. 3) The customer feels like they made a bad decision in the past and that you think they aren't smart. Not a good thing. That's why it's so much more effective when your customer points out the weaknesses. The fact that you already encouraged them to point out the strengths makes them feel less guilty about talking about the weaknesses. That's one reason why the order that the SWOT questions are asked creates such positive feelings.

O - Opportunities

"What would be a perfect product/service solution in your mind?" With this question, you are asking the customer to dream big. People like this. It's almost like asking, "If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?" When you ask this question, you are creating an emotional connection to the product that is exactly right for them, because they are creating the product in their mind. Does it get any better than that?

T - Threats

"What's prevented you from buying this perfect product/service in the past?" After the customer imagines the perfect solution, now is the time for reality. At this point in the buying conversation, the customer tells you their limits and buying objections. They share their budget, or time constraints, or that they weren't aware that this type of solution existed. In other words, the customer tells you what you need to know to help them make buying decision that's tailor made for them.

What fascinates me about using SWOT is during this entire part of conversation, you haven't begun to talk about your products/services. Instead, you're focused on the customer's unique needs. When you do this with the customer they realize that you actually get them. When you cross that threshold, you're no longer a pushy salesperson--you're a trusted advisor.

This article is based on the bestselling book, Influence with Ease by customer service strategist and certified professional speaker Jeff Mowatt. To obtain your own copy of his book or to inquire about engaging Jeff for your team, visit or call toll free 1-800-JMowatt (566-9288).

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