How to Use Questions to Uncover the Client’s True Problem

I’ve discovered that when clients call and ask me a question, I often assume I know what they are asking when really, that’s not what they were asking at all.

For example, a seller whose home just went under contract asked me, “Can the buyer back of this contract?” I hate this question because the answer is yes. Technically speaking, the buyer CAN back out of the contract at any time before the sale closes. Let’s face it, we’ve all seen it happen. I’ve seen a buyer back out of a purchase because he changed his mind, but he tried to use the excuse that the utility payments were too high. Sheesh.

Another agent in my office had a buyer pass away before completing the sale. So yes, it CAN happen.

BUT, is that what the seller really wants to know? NO!

What they really want is reassurance. But you have to help them uncover that.

A good response to that question is, “You know, I get that question all the time from sellers. Can I ask why you are concerned about that?”

And then the seller will launch into what the REAL situation is. In this particular case, the seller was worried about losing his money if he put down a non-refundable deposit on an apartment he planned to move to. Having THAT information allows me to address his true concern. If I had just answered the question, “Can the buyer back out of this contract?” by saying yes, then the seller would have been more freaked out and his worries would have escalated.

As a team we are reading the book You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar by David H Sandler. It’s a book about selling techniques, but I’ve found the chapter titled Can Asking Questions Be the Answer? to be quite helpful.

Sandler calls this questioning technique reversing. He goes on to list 12 ways that reversing helps the salesperson, but here are the four that apply specifically to assistants:

  1. Questions help you gather information, which leads to more questions.
  2. Questions probe. They uncover the “real” issues. Prospects hide their true motives as a built-in defense mechanism to thwart salespeople. Questions, when handled in a nurturing manner, help the prospect reveal true motives without any pressure from you!
  3. Questions keep you from contracting the most dreaded illness of amateur salespeople: diarrhea of the mouth!
  4. Questions help you gain credibility in the eyes of the prospect. Amateur salespeople frequently spend their time promising more than they can deliver. This doesn’t happen when you’re asking questions.

How to Use Questions to Uncover the Client's True Problem

Questions Help You Gather Information

Whenever someone asks you a question, you never have all the information you need to answer the question appropriately. NEVER. Go back and read that sentence again. It’s a game-changer.

When you are asked by a seller, “Do you do open houses?” your first inclination is to say yes or no depending on whether your team does them or not. However, you don’t know what the seller is thinking. They are asking this question for a reason. Do they love the idea of open houses because they’ve seen HGTV and they think it could sell the house? Or do they hate open houses because they don’t want to leave their home for three to four hours on a weekend and let a bunch of strangers traipse through their house?

If you just answer yes or no, you are not helping the client. Instead, say, “I get that question a lot. Would you like us to hold your home open?” Or, “I’m glad you asked me that. What are your thoughts on open houses?”

Now they will supply you with the missing information so that you can answer appropriately.

If they love open houses and your team doesn’t do them, you can explain that agents only hold open houses so they can door knock the neighborhood and bring people into the seller’s home so the agent can meet more people and potentially get a new client out of it.

If they hate open houses you can now agree with them and avoid upsetting them over the issue. By the way, don’t try to convince someone to do an open house when they don’t want to. It creates tension and negative feelings which you want to avoid.

Questions Uncover “Real” Issues

Sandler says, “Prospects hide their true motives as a built-in defense mechanism to thwart salespeople.” I would say that people hide their true motives as a built-in defense mechanism in general. Not just to thwart salespeople. Let’s face it, when you are trying to feel someone out, you never tell them exactly how you feel about something upfront. Most of us are unsure of ourselves or afraid that what we are saying isn’t absolutely true. So we beat around the bush. We’re not necessarily trying to be deceptive.

That’s all the client is doing to you when they ask a question. Which is why the question is never the question. There’s some other underlying concern that you need to question until you get to the real issue.

Questions Keep You from Yammering On and On

We’ve all done it. Someone asks us a question and in our haste to answer completely and thoroughly, we go on and on, spilling everything we know and more.

That is just not helpful at all. You end up sounding like a blabbering idiot and the client still doesn’t have the answer to their real question because you didn’t take the time to uncover it.

Questions Help You Gain Credibility in the Eyes of the Client

When you uncover the client’s real concern and actually help the client feel better than they did about the situation before they asked their questions, you are helping them. And that’s all they really wanted. They don’t necessarily need their questions answered; they just want to feel better about the situation.

When you help the client feel better, you are now the smartest person in world to them. You helped them, and they are grateful. And they like you. And by association, they like your agent and more inclined to refer more business to the team. Yes, that’s exactly how it works!

Sometimes the Question IS the Question

Don’t get me wrong. If someone asks you, “What’s the closing date?” you can answer that with the date. However, just to make sure, you might follow that up with, “Is there anything you’re concerned about with that?” Either they’ve just forgotten and want to be reminded, or there’s a potential problem and they wanted to confirm the date in order to know for sure if there’s a problem. Your follow-up question will uncover that.

Never Answer an Unasked Question

Sometimes what sounds like a question is actually just a statement. For example, the prospect says: “The price is too high.” That’s a statement, not a question. In this form, it doesn’t call for an answer, although most salespeople will answer it. The statement is obviously designed to pressure the salesperson, and the prospect is looking for a response. You can shift the pressure back to the prospect by helping the prospect convert the statement into a question.

PROSPECT: “The price is too high.” | SALESPERSON: “Which means…?”

Here are some variations of the same issue:

PROSPECT: “Your deliveries are too slow.” | SALESPERSON: “And…?”

PROSPECT: “You people always do this to me.” | SALESPERSON: ” ‘Do this to me’ means…?”

PROSPECT: “I’m really unhappy about this situation.” | SALESPERSON: “When you say ‘unhappy,’ George, what does that mean?”

PROSPECT: “I think this problem should be settled.” | SALESPERSON: ” ‘Settled’ means…?”

You cannot be sure what the prospect is thinking unless you use the reverse.

So learn to recognize when someone is making a statement. It will be more obvious to you through text and email.

If a client texts you and says, “The closing date is coming up too fast,” that is not a question. A simple response of “What does that mean?” or even better, “What are you asking me?” will help you uncover the true problem. Maybe they got sick and now they are going to have trouble moving out by the closing date. Maybe the moving company they were going to use backed out on them and they don’t know what to do.

People sometimes act helpless when they are overwhelmed. It is your job to help them through that. You have resources at your disposal which is why they are coming to you for help. But you can’t help if you don’t know what the problem is.

The Magic Wand Reverse

…if you had a magic wand that could produce the ideal solution to your problem, what would it be?

This is perfect if you really don’t have a clue as to how to help them. People will respect you even if all you do is help them come to a solution on their own. And perhaps their solution is something you can make happen. If it’s not, you can always tell them, “Let me see if I can make that happen. I’ll call you back by 4:00 today.” That way, they know you are working on a solution. This gives you time to really see if you can do what they are asking or if not, it gives you time to find an alternate solution.

Even if you haven’t found a solution, make it a point to call them by 4:00. Tell them you are still working on it. It’s possible that by the time you call them back, their problem may not even be an issue anymore. Magically the problem has solved itself. This happens more often than you think!

Let There Be Silence

Once you’ve asked a question, let the other person answer. Don’t talk over them and don’t rush to say something even when there is silence. You may feel the need to speak quickly especially if the other person is sounding panicky or if you feel like they are trying to rush you into producing an answer. If that’s the case, you can always say, “It sounds like the solution to this problem is going to take more than just a quick conversation. Do you have time now to thoroughly talk this through, or shall I call you back later?”

Slow down, make sure you understand the TRUE problem and then work towards a solution. For me, I know that when I rush to solve their problem and I don’t truly understand what the problem is, that just creates more problems down the road. That’s a lot of problems!

If you have questions or want to leave me feedback about how I’m doing, please comment below. I love to hear your thoughts and I’m always looking to improve.

Do you have a topic you want me to cover? You can always email me directly at egilbertATkwDOTcom.



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