QB4R: Crack the code to understanding your clients

By Jim Shute and Russell Fleury of Pro-Active Learning, Inc.


Many sales consultants believe that the best approach when a client asks a question is to have all of the answers, and respond immediately.  By contrast, the most effective sales consultants realize that the opposite is true: the best approach is to have the right questions to ask before responding. Having the right questions enables consultants to better understand what is most important to their clients.  With this knowledge as a foundation, consultants can tailor their presentations and demonstrations of their product to that specific client—saving precious time for both client and sales consultant, and avoiding potential miscommunication.

We have seen this scene play out many times in the showroom of a high-end product retailer: A client arrives and is greeted by a sales consultant who asks something like, “what brings you in today?”  The client says they are interested in a particular brand or model of a particular product.  The consultant responds with, “we have several right over here… let me show you,” and then launches into a product presentation.

Is there something wrong with this picture?  Of course it’s human nature—and common courtesy—to respond to a question or request from another person, especially a prospective client.  But without some understanding of that client’s individual wants and needs, a premature product presentation can be counterproductive.

A Consultative Approach

Effective sales consultants resist the urge to respond to client questions with a ready answer.  They know they must question before responding—QB4R—to help them understand the client’s situation, interest, wants, and needs.  Informed by that knowledge, they can more effectively and efficiently address the client’s interests through their product or service offerings.  This supports a consultative or interests-based approach to the client’s purchase process.

QB4R can be used effectively during all phases of sales consultations—and in any conversation where your aim is to ensure mutual understanding.  Let’s look at some examples:

During Greeting/Introduction

The Greeting phase is for building rapport and gathering some basic information. QB4R can help:

Consultant: Welcome to Blue Water Marina, my name is Jon. What brings you in today?
Client: I’m Pat, nice to meet you. I’ve been reading a lot of good things about your VX24 Wakemaster boat, and wanted to check one out.
Consultant: We’re glad you came by, Pat. So that I can be of the most value/benefit/help to you, would it be OK if I asked a couple of questions before showing you the VX24?

By applying QB4R—rather than immediately talking about the product—Jon has earned permission to find out more information about Pat before proceeding… information that can help to guide Jon’s sales approach.

Here are some questions you can use during Greeting/Introduction:
• What is it about the VX24 that appeals to you?
• Have you had a chance to do some research about the VX24? What caught your eye?
• Do you have some specific questions you would like to have answered?
• Where are you in your consideration process?
• What would you like to accomplish while you’re here today?
• How much time have you set aside for your visit this morning?

During Consultation

Consultation focuses on discovering the relevant information about a prospective client in order to match the best possible product or service to their needs. In this phase—which is all about asking questions—QB4R can help clarify the discussion and ensure understanding. For example:

Client: I’m looking for the overall best performance, and the VX24 seems to fit the bill. But I am curious how it compares with the VR26 model?

Consultant: “Performance” can mean different things to different people. What exactly does performance mean to you? What situations are you envisioning where performance would be particularly important?

For example, performance in a boat might mean the wake, the engine, the maneuverability, or even the maintenance and operating costs. Without QB4R, Jon our consultant may never know what it means for his client. And he certainly wouldn’t know by launching into a comparative presentation of the VX24 and the VR26… at least not yet!

Questions you can use during Consultation include:
• How are you planning on using this (product)? How will (product) fit into your family’s lifestyle?
• What [product] are you currently using? How has your experience been with that one?
• What appeals most to you about [Our Brand]?
• What other products have you researched/experienced that have impressed you?
• What impressed you about [Competitive Brand or Model]?
• Once you’ve done your research, how will you decide between the alternatives?
• How will you know when you’ve found the right [product]?

Addressing Clients’ Concerns

Most consultants want to respond to a concern/objection raised by the customer by answering it as quickly and directly as possible, and moving on. QB4R can help here too:

Client: I’d think I’d like to mull this over for a few days.
Consultant: It sounds like you still might have some unanswered questions about the VX24 and how it might fit with what you’re looking for. What else would you want to know in order to feel comfortable that you’ve found the right model for you?

With additional clarification provided by the client, the consultant can now more effectively respond to the objection or concern. In this case QB4R lets the client know that you are really listening to their concern and that you understand it fully, before responding. And in some cases, it buys you just a bit of extra time to more effectively tailor your response to the client.

Questions you can use to help with Objections include:
• What exactly do you mean when you say [whatever concern the client has raised]?
• If you don’t mind me asking… Why is [client’s concern] so important to your decision?
• Other than [client’s main concern], is there anything else that we should discuss or address to help you with your decision?
• In your overall decision, how important is [client’s expressed concern]?

Cushioning the Consultation
While the purpose of QB4R is geared toward better meeting the client’s needs, there is a fine line between being consultative and being evasive—and no client wants to deal with an evasive sales consultant. You may need to “cushion” your use of questions, or even ask permission to ask questions, like Jon did during the greeting process, so that the client understands the benefit to them of your approach. Some phrases you can use as cushions when you QB4R include:
• I’m curious…
• So that I make sure we cover everything you’re interested in...
• So that I can make the best use of our time together…
• That sounds interesting. If you don’t mind me asking…?

Ask First, Tell Second
The goal of any two-way communication is understanding, which is accomplished by listening. QB4R is a reminder to “ask first, tell second” in sales interactions. It supports a client-focused approach where consultants “seek first to understand” before making presentations or demonstrations. When used effectively it will help you to better understand client needs, and present your brand, organization, and product—and yourself—in a way that is focused on individual client needs.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Jim Shute has been helping people to succeed through learning and professional development for over 35 years. A career-long sales professional, Jim is founder and president of Pro-Active Learning, Inc., a company that develops and delivers sales and customer service training programs for companies in premium market sectors. During his career, Jim has been able to establish, build, and maintain productive client relationships through his practical and personal sales and communication approaches. Jim and his company have designed and conducted sales training programs to help clients and their employees do the same. Jim was a contributing author to the 2018 bestselling book, The Will to Win: The World’s Leading Entrepreneurs and Professionals Reveal Their Secrets to Winning in Life and Business! with success expert Brian Tracy.

Russell Fleury is a life-long learner with over 40 years’ experience as a professional educator and the co-author of two college-level textbooks on individualized instruction. He began his career as an educator with the Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools where he was a mathematics teacher, guidance counselor, varsity football coach, and high school principal. In 1986, Russell left public education to begin his career in organizational development and human performance improvement. Over the past 20 years, Russell has designed, developed and delivered a wide variety of programs for Fortune 500 Companies, small businesses and executive managers. Russell is best known for his highly interactive seminars that have provided participants with the knowledge and skills necessary to develop a sustainable competitive advantage in the marketplace.



  • Insight
  • Sales Process
  • Consultative

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