Research shows asking the right questions is an underrated skill

Communication and engagement

While 73 per cent of survey respondents consider good listening as important, only 22 per cent think being inquisitive is key for sales success.

In the national YouGov survey of business decision makers, the trait cited most frequently as being important in a good salesperson is good knowledge about the product or service.

Tony Hughes, CEO at Huthwaite International, comments: “While listening is an important trait for a salesperson, if they don’t ask the right questions what are they listening to? They need to ask questions that open up discussion around the business challenges that the customer is facing. That’s the only way they can identify how they might work together to address these issues.

“The danger of placing too much emphasis on product knowledge is that, too often, salespeople will see the sales opportunity as a chance to talk about those products without understanding the customer’s needs and showing how they can be met. As the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Salespeople who ask intelligent, probing questions can set themselves apart from the competition and create customer value in the sales process itself,” says Tony.

Following being knowledgeable about the product or service and being a good listener, confidence and enthusiasm rounded out the top four places of what are considered to be important traits in salespeople.

“People rate confidence and enthusiasm in salespeople highly and these often stem from a salesperson believing in their skills as well as their product or service. If they are comfortable with the process of selling and their ability, then that is going to come through in their dealings with customers,” says Mr Hughes.

Being persuasive and flexible are considered by more than two in five decision makers as important traits to be a good salesperson. And it seems that almost everyone now recognises the well-proven folly of salespeople being pushy, with only two per cent citing being aggressive as an important trait.

Mr Hughes says: “Salespeople need to be able to help buyers through the thought process as they investigate what to buy. This is not achieved by asking a list of prescribed questions, it comes from being highly responsive to what the customer is saying. Flexible salespeople are able to adapt their solution as the conversation with the customer progresses. To be persuasive salespeople need to understand the actual needs of the buyer which ties back again to listening and asking questions.”