I received a call last week from a referral named Charles. Charles told me that he and his team needed help closing business. Because the solutions they offer clients are so well known, his company has no problem securing an initial meeting. However, the company’s close ratio has been dismal.

I told Charles it’s never about closing. Then, I asked a series of questions going back to the beginning of his sales process when he gets a lead:

  1. How do the so-called leads come to them in the first place?
  2. Are these leads qualified?
  3. Is the prospect interested or just tire-kicking?
  4. What questions do they ask their sales prospects?
  5. How soon do they launch a demo?
  6. What is their marketing plan follow-up?

What I learned about Charles’ sales process confirmed my suspicions: The prospects were unqualified, the sales team wasn’t asking discovery questions and the sales meeting follow-up consisted of a series of emails. A strong sales relationship is based on your authentic interest in your clients and their success (it’s not about you!).

Identify the problem, not the symptom. It’s never about closing. Never. Troubled closes are the symptom. The problem is the neglect salespeople display toward all the activities during the early parts of the sales process.

It’s like back pain. You can stretch and put heat on an aching back, but unless you treat the cause of the pain—a pulled muscle or degenerating disc—you will still have back pain.

Smart questions lead to strong sales revenue. Once a sales lead is sourced, you can enhance your close rate by understanding what your client really needs. Many salespeople ask just one or two questions and then assume that they have zeroed in on the client’s need and the appropriate solution. This is rarely the case. These salespeople don’t take the time to really evaluate the client’s situation, problem or need. This disinterested sales strategy is doomed to fail.

Thoughtful and provocative questioning delivers a huge impact on your close rate and your sales revenues. When you ask smart, probing questions to understand the real problem, very often the scale of the project increases (more money) and the client gets a solution that will actually solve his problem and create demonstrable business results. Your client looks good, the company is successful and you are poised for additional business.

If you hear “my salespeople can’t close,” it’s the symptom, not the cause of the problem. Treat the problem and you’re on your way to success.

Sign up for The Lead and get a new tip in your inbox every day! More tips:

Your morning success ritual

3 steps to cloning your best clients

Sales results suffering? Ask yourself these five questions

Joanne Black is a professional sales speaker, sales webinar leader, and author of “No More Cold Calling: The Breakthrough System That Will Leave Your Competition in the Dust” from Warner Business Books. Visit www.nomorecoldcalling.com. © Copyright 2011 Joanne S. Black. All rights reserved.