I met Ali Mirza of Rose Garden Consulting, a sales consulting firm, for the first time a few months back after having spoken to him on the phone a couple of times.

We were both attending the same event and landed at the airport around the same time so we decided to share a cab and chat about sales along the way.

At that time, and at my company Arkenea, we were fully focused on generating leads via inbound marketing, but were toying with the idea of starting outbound sales. And Ali seemed just the perfect person to talk to given his experience.

For the questions I had for Ali about outbound sales, I ended up answering questions for him for the 25 minutes of our drive to the hotel. By the end of it, not only was I sold on the fact that we need to run an outbound sales program, but there’s no better person than Ali to guide us through it.

I had put together so many questions for Ali, but through our conversation, I was the one doing the most talking and with that, ended up being completely sold!

True story!

In this story though, was also hidden the one sales strategy that Ali claims can be used to pretty much sell anything to anyone (which I experienced first hand) – selling through questions. By asking the right questions you bring to the surface the root of the problem. And having a better understanding of the root, you can better speak to the issue, thus triggering the appropriate reaction.

You see, when we ask questions, our prospects have to respond. And that response, is in effect, the actual pitch. The beauty is, we are not giving the pitch, it is actually our prospect who is pitching themselves. If it is the prospect who verbalizes the problem, they give it far more credence because they are committed to their own speech and believe what they are saying,” he revealed more details of his strategy to me the next day over brunch.

I had to dig further into this strategy, which had me sold within 25 minutes when I wasn’t even in the buying mode. And so I asked him a series of questions, the responses to which can help you scale your business today.

To start things off, can you give an example of selling via questions so my readers can relate better?

I would hazard to say most deals I close are as a result of questions. Many times I’ve asked such detailed and probing questions, the prospect is in an incredible vulnerable state because through my questions the prospect was able to understand how little handle they have over their current situation and how much they do not know.

If you’ve seen the illustration of the dunning-kruiger effect, you realize at a certain point, once the prospect has been properly explained their situation they are more lost than ever.

This is an incredibly effective manner of communication because I am not assuming they don’t know or manipulating them into a situation of vulnerability, rather I am following a step-by-step protocol to ensure they are aware of their situation. Now often we discover they are not aware of their situation.

Specifically speaking, last month I was on a call with a prospect from the New York area and what was scheduled to be a 15 minute chat turned out to be an hour and a half discovery session where at the very end of it I had not given one sales pitch about my services and the prospect asked “So how do I hire you to fix this for me, I imagine you can help with that, right?”

Is there a method or a structure to the questions? Is there a process one can follow to implement in their own business?

It is important to follow a logical sequence in your questioning, because each question should not only build on previous responses but also, each question builds trust.

A simple way I structure all my questions are:

  1. Frame: Give yourself rope, build rapport, open them up with broad questions. Couple of examples: ‘why do your clients come to see you?’ and ‘who is your most profitable client currently and why?’.
  2. Build credibility: Let them brag; ask questions that show how much you know about their industry. These questions are narrower than the first set. Questions such as ‘why are you the best choice?’ or ‘There are client’s that we have and then there are client that we want to have. What kind of clients do you want to close?’
  3. Ask pointed questions: Back them into a corner and discover what you can sell them; build off of their answers to some of their challenges and successes, this is where your questions will start to point out all the flaws in their plan or reasons for not using you. This way, you are guarding yourself against objections, and in fact, preventing them from even coming up. Questions such as ‘How can we get our customers to spend more?’ and ‘How do we drive more revenue?’
  4. Start to narrow them down by talking future: This is your sell; start by telling them a story about someone just like them you were able to help, and then start asking questions geared towards you getting inside their head as to what they want to buy from you. Examples are ‘What are some of your biggest challenges and concerns that you wish to address?’ and ‘What result will allow you to deem your strategy a success?’

This formula will build the story arc in the mind of your prospect and build credibility and rapport with you as you continue down a journey together.

What about objections? Can those be handled more effectively by asking questions?

Absolutely, you can ask questions to clarify what they mean specifically in their objection. This is because most prospects’ objections are typically vague and fairly open ended.

In fact, I suggest at times to corner the objection prior to answering it. However, you do need to respond with some sort of an answer that is not strictly a question, because it will appear you are evading their question and that breaks down trust and credibility.

For example:

Prospect: How much does that cost?

You: Well, it really depends on which option we go with, but the prices start at $100.00. But in order for me to give you a quote for your situation, can you just tell me a few things first please? How many do you need? How long do you plan to subscribe for? What features and options are important to you?

There are cold leads and there are warmed up ones. Are the questions and approach different for both?

They are significantly different, not only from the tone of your questions but also the questions themselves.

In a warmed up lead, you are able to be far more direct, take liberties with your questions and ultimately able to have a shorter discovery call (at times). This is because with a warmed up lead, they have reached out to you, or you have been introduced to them, or some level of prior connection is present.

With a cold call, you have to spend far more time building familiarity and rapport with the prospect prior to diving in to the brass tax questions. This is because the prospect either does not know who you are, could be caught off guard, or simply not looking for your help.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.