Socratic Selling Skills: How Socrates Sold

Questions Don’t Just Ask—They Also Tell!

It is obvious that you should use questions when you want information to flow from the other person to you. It’s less obvious, but no less true, that you can also use questions to make information or a viewpoint flow in the opposite direction—from you to the other person. Socrates used this technique of conveying information by asking questions so effectively that 2,000 years later we still refer to it as the “Socratic Method.”

Asking questions can be especially powerful when you are trying to persuade a buyer that the problem she faces is more serious than she thinks and that it warrants a solution now. Instead of telling the buyer “You have a problem here,” ask “Are you satisfied with...” or “Will you be able to compete effectively with your current equipment?” This is a good selling technique, since it allows the listener or buyer to reach the conclusion herself. Most of us like our own ideas more than those that are handed to us or imposed on us by someone else. Let the buyer think that the need for a solution is her idea, and she is more likely to buy.

Questions Can Also Help Persuade

When attempting to persuade—whether in a sales call or a social interaction—it is possible to hurt your cause by “coming on too strong.”  That’s what happens when the persuader (the seller) focuses too heavily on the product or idea and too little on the buyer and how the product or idea appears from the buyer’s perspective.

The best way to focus on the buyer is to ask questions which get the buyer to talk. There are two reasons—one psychological and one purely informational—why it´s good to get the buyer talking.

Psychological Benefit.  Your questions tell the buyer that you are concerned with his situation and his interests, and that you would like to know what he thinks and wants.  If a buyer thinks you are concerned with his needs and that you have some sympathy or at least open-mindedness for his point of view, he will share more information with you.  He will also lower his defenses and be more open to what you have to say.

Informational Benefit.  With the buyer talking and you actively listening, you are almost certain to learn something that will help you present your argument or solution most effectively.  You may learn what the buyer wants and why the buyer is or is not interested in what you are about to propose.  You may learn the buyer’s decision criteria and what objections the buyer is likely to raise to your proposal.  This information can be extremely important when you present your argument or proposal, for it allows you to appeal directly to the buyer’s specific needs, interests, and predispositions.


ZEHREN♦FRIEDMAN offers a full range of selling skills courses to help you sell better.

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