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Most salespeople still ask pathetic, self-serving questions

(Editor’s note: The last “Larry King Live” show aired Dec. 16.)

Tonight is the last night of “Larry King Live.” I don’t watch a lot of television, but I’m compelled to see what his last night will look like. He’s interviewed thousands of people, every notable person in the world, and I’m sure it will be interesting, if not nostalgic.

I’ve always questioned Larry King’s ability to ask a tough question. He throws softball, Miss America questions rather than asking for impact or thought. One of the reasons I prefer not to watch television and talk show news is because it makes me angry and frustrated. I want real answers.

Post-show report: Every famous person, celebrity and newsperson you could think of appeared. They were very nice and full of praise for an originator of the newsmaker interview talk show. (I’m sending special homage to Edward R. Murrow as the originator. His “Goodnight and good luck” signoff still gives me chills.)

I’ve watched many “last shows.” Who killed J.R.? The last Walter Cronkite newscast. The last “Dick Van Dyke Show.” And, most notably, the last Johnny Carson appearance on “The Tonight Show.” I grew up with “The Tonight Show.” Steve Allen. Jack Paar. And, of course, Johnny.

Did you ever see the infamous Ed Ames tomahawk-throwing scene where Ed, instead of chopping the apple in half, recircumcises the character hand drawn on wood? I did. Or do you remember the night Johnny threw Don Rickles in the hot tub spontaneously? I do.

Every major comedian and movie star made an appearance on “The Tonight Show’s” final episode. It was by far the best show on television, and I hated to see the true “entertainment talk show” go. Letterman has come close to replacing the show. No one else holds candle.

I doubt we have seen the last of Larry King. He will become a talk show guest or do specials until he takes his last breath, reliving questions in the same manner that he threw them out. “What was your favorite show?” “Who was your favorite interview?” “Who was the toughest guest?” And other nauseating, uninformative questions and answers.

I wish somebody would ask King, “Who actually wrote the questions for you?” or “How much were your callers screened?” or “Tell me about your early gambling addiction.” No one would dare.

Here’s some insight about your questions: Making sales is all about asking questions. Engaging questions. Intelligent, engaging questions.

When a prospective customer or an existing customer is asked a compelling question about their productivity, their brand, their outreach, their service, their morale or their profit, the answers are sure to be well-thought-out and both pointed and poignant. And those answers give the salesperson insight that might lead to a sale.

The sad fact is that most salespeople still ask pathetic questions. Pathetic, self-serving questions: “Who are you using right now?” “How are they treating you?” “Do you have a contract with your present supplier?” “When does that contract expire?” “Do you think we could bid on that business, because I think we could save you some money.”

Sad questions. Funny questions. Pathetically sad, funny questions that make you sound like every other salesperson that walks in the door.

And even if those questions get you a response, and you get to bid on the business, you’ll come in with a low-price, low-profit proposal. Please help me understand why you do this.

As if those questions aren’t bad enough, other salespeople take the tact of “Tell me a little bit about your business” or, worse, they try to “probe” someone to find their pain.

Here’s an easy solution: Why don’t you try to find their pleasure?

Here’s a not-so-easy solution: Why aren’t you preparing the night before with engaging questions, questions about the prospect, that make the prospect stop and think, consider new information and respond in terms of you?

I’ve been writing about sales for nearly 20 years. If you’ve read any of my previous writings, you know I consider questions the heart of the sale and you know that more sales are lost to poor questions than are lost to lowest price.

Salespeople should go into every sales call with 25 preprepared questions from research that they did the night before. But they don’t. Scratch that: You don’t.

I recommend that you take one hour of your television time and redirect it to preparing questions, emotionally-based, engaging questions that make the prospect give you substantive answers that you can turn into a sale for your next sales call — or it might be your last show.

Jeffrey Gitomer is the author of “The Sales Bible” and “The Little Red Book of Selling.” President of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer, he gives seminars, runs sales meetings and conducts Internet training on selling and customer service at www.trainone.com.

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