To me, the key skill of a sales person is questioning, being able to get the customer to give you all the information you require to enable you to deliver the order-winning proposal. After all, selling is a game and the gaining of information like searching for all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to give you the full picture.
But selling isn’t the only profession that needs to excel at asking questions. In journalism, the Five Ws (also known as the Five Ws (and one H), or Six Ws) is a concept in news style and research, and in police investigations it is regarded as a formula for getting the “full” story on something. The maxim of the Five Ws (and one H) is that for a report to be considered complete it must answer a checklist of six questions, each of which comprises an interrogative word:
- Who? Who was involved?
- What? What happened (what’s the story)?
- Where? Where did it take place?
- When? When did it take place?
- Why? Why did it happen?
- How? How did it happen?
Another “profession” where gathering information is a top priority is espionage or spying. Rudyard Kipling’s story Kim published in 1901 unfolds against the backdrop of The Great Game, the political conflict between Russia and Britain in Central Asia. Throughout the story Kim is trained by a British spymaster in the art of information gathering, and some have suggested that Kipling himself was a British spy.
Interestingly, a year later in 1902 The “Five Ws” (and one H) were memorialized by Rudyard Kipling in his “Just So Stories” (1902), in which a poem accompanying the tale of “The Elephant’s Child” opens with:
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
For sales people remembering to ask good, open questions is important. But just as important is your attitude in your dialogue with the customer. I found treating the information gathering process as a game where I was fully focused on understanding everything I could about the whole situation meant that not only did I got lots of information but the customer felt that I was really interested in them – great empathy.
Tell me how you develop questions for your customers.