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Channelling Your Inner Socrates

Picture this: you’re in a bustling marketplace in ancient Athens; market stall holders are shouting, customers are haggling, and somewhere in the midst of it all, there’s a chap in a toga asking, “What is the essence of justice?”

That guy is Socrates, the godfather of questioning techniques. Fast forward a couple of millennia and you’ll find that every modern sales model and the questioning technique supporting it is a direct descendant of that curious Athenian. If Socrates were around today he would make a killer salesperson, and here’s why.

Let’s start with the basics. Socratic questioning is all about stimulating critical thinking and illuminating ideas through a disciplined questioning process. It's like peeling an onion; each question peels back another layer, revealing more depth and clarity.

Now, if that doesn’t sound like a good sales conversation, I don’t know what does. Imagine you’re trying to sell a product. Instead of just listing features and benefits, you start asking the potential customer about their needs, their challenges, their objectives. Before you know it, you’ve guided them to the realisation that they need what you’re selling. Genius, right?

One of the key aspects of Socratic questioning is to keep the dialogue going, much like a seasoned salesperson. It’s all about asking open-ended questions that encourage detailed responses. ask questions like, “What can you tell me about that?” or “How does that impact your daily routine?” You’re not just gathering information; you’re building a relationship.

If you’re familiar with the SPIN selling model (Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need-Payoff), guess what? It’s dripping with Socratic essence. SPIN selling is all about asking questions that uncover the customer’s situation, identify their problems, explore the implications of those problems, and then guide them to see the value of your solution.

It’s basically a structured Socratic dialogue. You’re leading the customer on a journey of self-discovery where they end up realising your product is exactly what they need.

Then there’s the Challenger Sale. This approach suggests that instead of simply building relationships, salespeople should challenge their customers’ thinking and offer new insights. This method involves teaching, tailoring, and taking control; sounds a lot like our friend Socrates, doesn’t it?

The Challenger Sale relies on questioning techniques that push the customer to think differently and see their situation from a new perspective. By questioning the status quo and presenting innovative solutions, you’re not just selling a product; you’re providing enlightenment. Socrates would be proud.

Then there's Consultative Selling model (my personal preference), another star in the sales constellation. Consultative selling is all about being a trusted advisor rather than a pushy salesperson. And how do you become a trusted advisor? By asking insightful questions that show you genuinely care about the customer’s needs.

In other words, by being a modern-day Socrates. You’re diving deep into the customer’s world, understanding their challenges, and then thoughtfully offering solutions that make their lives better. It’s like giving them an “aha” moment on a silver platter.

Now, you might be thinking, “Okay, this is all well and good, but how do I actually implement these Socratic techniques in my sales conversations?” Here’s a quick rundown.

1. Start with open-ended questions: These are the backbone of any good Socratic dialogue. Questions like “What are your current challenges?” or “How do you see the next 12 months for your business?” get the conversation flowing

2. Dig deeper: Don’t settle for surface-level answers. Use probing questions to explore the customer’s responses. Ask “Why is that important to you?” or “Can you give me an example?”

3. Encourage reflection: Get the customer to think critically about their situation. Questions like “What would happen if you don’t solve this problem?” or “How would a solution benefit you?” are gold dust.

4. Lead don’t push: Lead the customer to their own conclusions rather than forcing your product on them. Use questions like “How do you think this solution could help you?” or “What benefits do you see from this approach?” For me, this phase is what separates consultative selling from the other sales models.

By embracing these Socratic questioning techniques, you’re not just making a sale; you’re engaging in a meaningful dialogue that leaves the customer feeling understood and valued. And let’s be honest, that’s a win-win for everyone.

So next time you’re gearing up for a sales call, take a moment to channel your inner Socrates. Prepare questions that spark curiosity, encourage reflection, and guide your customer to their own brilliant conclusions.

There’s lots of secrets to successful selling hidden in the dusty scrolls of ancient philosophy and the chap in the toga in ancient Athens is up there with the best of them.

Happy Selling


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