If you’re in sales, asking questions is a large part of your daily duties. Questions are arguably the most important tool in a salesperson’s arsenal. Asking questions in the right way can compel a prospect to act, open their mind to new possibilities, and even secure buy-in for the next step in the sales cycle.
But are all questions created equal? No. One of the most important things to consider when asking prospects’ questions is if you’re being assertive or aggressive.
The Difference Between Assertive & Aggressive Salespeople
Aggressive: According to HubSpot, aggressiveness is characterized as relentlessly pursuing your desired outcome while ignoring or attacking the opinions or desires of others.
Example Question: “This process will take less time if I speak directly to the manager. Who should I contact?”
Assertive: HubSpot defines being assertive involves pursuing a desired outcome or stating and standing by an opinion while still being mindful and respectful of the desired outcomes and opinions of others.
Example Question: “Which manager is assigned to this area?”
The key difference here begins with the length of the question. In general, longer questions come off more aggressive to prospects. The reasoning behind this is longer questions involve the speaker inserting their own context and intent, leaving the prospect little room to answer truthfully. Assertive questioning involves shorter questions that get right to the point, making the prospect more comfortable with answering however they like.
When starting to formulate questions, try sticking to the “one sentence rule” which forces you to cut out your own context and opinions and get straight to the point. Of course, after the initial question, you can then provide more context if the prospect asks
Don’t let the fear of aggression make you lose the sale
Although it’s important to avoid turning off a prospect with an aggressive attitude, don’t let the fear of doing so harm your pitch. Focusing too much on not being aggressive can lead reps to do the opposite and become passive with their prospects, resulting in the loss of a potential deal.
Passive questioning is ineffective because, instead of moving the process forward, it adds unnecessary steps by putting the ball in the prospects’ court. Passive questions to avoid are usually formulated around an open-ended question such as, “Give me a call when you make a decision.” This gives all the power to the prospect, which will most likely result in them going dark on you.
Tips to Practice Assertive Questioning
Before starting your journey into assertive selling, remember that the goal is to create an open discussion that will foster mutual understanding with a prospect. The better your understanding of a prospects’ pain points, the easier it is to help the decision-making process along. Some tips to remember while practicing assertive selling skills include:
- Firmly state your opinions without attacking the prospects’
- Allow a prospect to share their ideas and thoughts without interruption
- State your understanding of what was communicated to confirm what you heard instead of accusing and judging
- Set expectations early by starting with “hard” questions from the beginning
- Accept the answers you get even if you don’t like them, take no gracefully
Don’t let the fear of coming off aggressive stop you from being assertive enough to get the sale. According to Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, the challenge in a sales situation is to gauge the correct level of assertiveness that’s most likely to move the sale forward, without slipping into an aggressive stance that might cause the prospect to go dark.
There is a fine line between assertiveness and aggression. The manner in which you ask questions is just one aspect. With practice, any salesperson can master the art of assertiveness and close more deals!
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