What is a probing question and how to use them

Five probing sales questions that will propel your profits forward.

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There are many different sales techniques professionals need to perfect. In fact, there are so many it can often seem bewildering to the uninitiated. There are so many techniques and tips to take on board, so many good questions to familiarise yourself with.

Asking good questions as a sales professional requires research, time, and determination. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to one of the most important questions techniques you need to use. This is something known as probing questions for sales.

Probing questions are designed to encourage deep thought about a specific topic. Probing questions ask for more detail on a particular matter.

Sales Probing Question Examples:

  • How can we help?
  • Do you have a budget in mind?
  • Why do you think that is?

Probing techniques in sales are an extremely effective method in guiding your prospect towards increasing cooperation between you. Probing questions allow you to gather intelligence on your prospect and alter your negotiation plan to better effect. They’re fantastic at improving your experience and efficacy.

How do you ask effective probing sales questions? By following the guide, learning from its examples, and trying them out yourself.

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    What is a probing sales question?

    Simply put a probing sales question is one designed to get your prospect to reveal information that you can use to facilitate closing and cooperation. They’re designed to expose information about the prospect that they might not disclose immediately. A good example of this is your prospect revealing a pain you can exploit in your sales pipeline.

    Sales probing questions are similar to discovery questions however they are more detailed than the latter. Probing questions go deeper, so a good technique to follow is to start with discovery questions and then follow up with probing questions. You have to exercise your judgment about when to strike.

    Think about it this way, discovery questions help you find an issue you can exploit, and probing questions allow you to work out how to exploit it. Both furnish information of different varieties. Let’s look at some examples of probing questions you can use during your sales process.

    Read also: 

    Account-based selling and relationship selling

    Sales Pitch Examples

    Sales probing questions examples

    1) How would you describe the problem you’re facing (Problem solving)

    One of the best sales probing questions you can use, this question works so well because it enables you to quickly gain an understanding of the issue facing the prospect. Don’t accept their first response without further questioning. Follow up with more probing questions.

    Ask when the problem started, how much damage it’s causing, why they believe it’s happening, you have plenty of options. This probing sales technique is an example of a string question, ie, it works best when employed with more questions and follow-ups.

    This question is a quick route for you to travel towards understanding how best to sell your product to the prospect. As such it is best employed at the beginning of the sales process. It won’t prove as effective if you’re further down the sales pipeline. It can also be employed in new negotiations with the same prospect, just only use it once during each negotiation process.

    2) Do you have a budget in mind? (Buying process)

    This is a great example as it cuts right to the heart of the issue every salesperson wants to know, can the prospect afford the deal? You don’t need to find a specific number per ce, this question is designed to allow you to gauge the seriousness and commitment of the prospect.

    If you ask this question be prepared to compromise and adapt your pitch to meet the prospect’s expectations. Keep time frames in mind to get even more detailed responses, find out if their budget is annual, bi-annual etc. Having a finite time range to work within will help you out tremendously.

    As this probing question is part of the buying process you might be tempted to leave it until the end of the process. Don’t instead use it either midway through your talks or when a breakdown in negotiation occurs. It’s just as good at injecting urgency and or finality into discussions with your customers as it is at providing more information.

    3) What criteria will you use to decide on closing? (Deep probing)

    While it won’t exactly do your job for you this probing sales technique goes a long way towards helping you close your deal. If your interlocutor reveals how they plan to make their decision you can, in a sense, help make it for them.

    You achieve this by aligning your sales pitch to coincide with each of the prospect’s criteria. If the timing’s one of them offer expedited delivery, if installations an issue, offer assistance. Be detailed and direct, the prospect will appreciate it. Just make sure that you can secure detailed answers from the prospect as vague responses will make the sales process more difficult.

    As an example of a deep probing sales question, this example is particularly well applied when you’re faced with a reluctant prospect. It makes you come across as empathetic and keen to understand your interlocutor’s position. You will gain considerable information using this technique without coming across as too direct.

    4) What is your current situation? (Rapport building)

    This question might seem somewhat vague but that’s the beauty of it. This sales probing question gets your prospect to frame their problem, pain, and vision of how your shared sales process should pan out.

    Just make sure you do your research before asking this question. Your prospect will become irritated if the situation is obvious and well-known, asking this question in such a scenario will make you look foolish. Instead, ask this probing question when you’re a little further down the sales pipeline and need a broader update from your prospect including information you can’t find out by yourself.

    Similarly to question number three this question focuses on building a deeper relationship with your prospect. However, it differs in that rapport building is this question’s main purpose. Use this question when you’ve already built a good relationship rather than when you are building one up.

    5) Why isn’t your current product working for you? (Solution query)

    This is a classic example of how you can probe your prospect to discover how you can cure their pain. It’s direct, it tells you why they need a product and it allows you to steer the negotiation towards why they need your product in particular.

    It’s a great example of solution-based sales tactics. This question is also positive in nature as it focuses on results rather than just pain/need and also opens up more possibilities for cooperation in the future. If their current product doesn’t work then it’s likely that the prospect will have other issues that you can provide solutions to.

    Therefore it’s a good idea to use this probing sales question when you want to maintain a long-term relationship with your prospect. It works particularly well in sales processes with high levels of communication between the salesperson and their prospect. Just remember to stay sharp and be ready to offer solutions to any problems the prospect mentions.

    Using probing sales question to maximize your success

    Probing sales questions is a great technique you can use to master the sales process. Use them efficiently, timing them to maximize their effect and they will significantly contribute to your bottom line. Remember to plan your questions out, create contingency plans for each possible response you can receive, and combine them with discovery questions.

    You can check out our article on discovery sales questions and more articles on the sales process on our blog. Make sure to check back for further updates, and to subscribe and like our social media pages for the latest updates.