Second Level Questioning: What It Is & Why It’s Important for Sales

Second Level Questioning What It Is & Why It's Important for Sales

By: Molly D Protosow

Questions are the most important and difficult aspect of developing a salesperson’s skills. Knowing the right questions, how to ask them,  and when to ask them – are essential to the entire buying process.

Despite this importance, the greatest struggle sales teams have is failing to ask enough questions. And not just any questions – but tough, insightful, and thought-provoking questions.

Not all questions are of the same nature, however. In sales, there are three different levels of questions you should be asking your prospects, and each of them is built on the previous layer. These levels are your guide to asking initial questions, and comprehensive follow up questions.

Forming these layered questions is a straightforward process. And in this post, we’ll outline each of the three levels of questioning and how they should be used together in an overall strategy. Then, we’ll take a deeper dive into second-level questioning.

The 3 Levels of Questioning

First-level questions are preliminary in nature, and the most frequent questions salespeople ask their prospects. These kinds of questions are used to gain a basic understanding of a subject, making them the best questions to ask at the beginning of your sales conversations. First-level questioning is used strategically – to set up powerful second-level questions.

Second-level questions then guide prospects to dig deeper into their answers to your first-level questions. These questions are critical to the sales process because they prompt the prospect to provide further explanation about their current challenges, needs, and buying process.

Third-level questions though are where true insight comes from. These questions expose the final layer of information you’re truly looking for: why your prospect wants to buy something. Or why they wouldn’t want a specific solution. Third-level questions challenge potential customers to think through these buying nuances. They dig into the more emotional reasons why prospects would purchase your solution – typically their fear of loss or their desire for gain.

For the purpose of this post, let’s deep dive into second-level questioning and how you can use these questions to help close your next deal. 

Second-Level Questioning 101: The Basics

After you’ve asked your first-level questions and you understand the basics of your prospects’ situation, you need to uncover the next level of information to form the best pitch. This means you have to ask an insightful, thought-provoking follow-up question – a second-level question.

Second-level questioning guides your prospects to analyze and further explain their responses to your first-level questions. They prompt prospects to think through their ideas or think through a situation. In fact, the best salespeople ask these questions more than any other level of question. These questions help set up powerful, third-level questions

When you use second-level questioning, the insights you gain from your prospects are drastically greater than simpler, first-level questions. Second-level questions are connected with higher sales performance because they guide sellers to draw conclusions based on the prospect’s responses.

Second-Level Questioning 202: Research Reveals

Stanford researchers found that asking second-level, “elaboration” questions aid prospects in becoming more open to different viewpoints than their own. It’s a monumental step in allowing yourself to be persuaded.

Harvard researchers also found that when prospects answered second-level questions, prompting them to share their opinions, they found “increased neural activity in the areas of the brain associated with reward and pleasure.”

Second-level questions play on how the brain naturally discloses information. They follow the brain’s natural processes for decision making and are practically intuitive. Once you understand how second-level questioning works, you can easily come up with relevant, thought-provoking questions unique to each prospect and selling situation.

Second-Level Questioning 303: Effective Examples

Here is an example of a sequence you can use when second-level questioning:

  • Why did the CEO decide to go in that direction?
  • May I ask why you chose to go with that distributor?
  • Would you consider something that didn’t have ______?
  • Why is it important to solve this problem now? Why not sooner?

This string of questioning forces prospects to dig deeper into the actual motives behind their position. These questions will give you the information you need to be more strategic in your sales efforts and will help you make an easy transition to asking third-level questions, which will bring you one step closer to winning your next deal.

Take the Necessary Steps to Close More Business

There are few better cases for the importance of second-level questioning than how they align with the human brain’s natural decision making and persuasion processes. They’re an absolute necessity – helping you uncover the critical information that will ultimately lead to more sales.

By incorporating a layered questioning strategy within your overall sales approach, you and your team will be able to identify your prospect’s’ true pain points and objections. And with this knowledge, you’re primed to overcome their opposition and better speak to how your solution addresses their pain points.

Layered questioning is a vital tool for any successful sales staff.

The question is, are you asking the most important questions?


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