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Customer inquiries: ‘How’s ZAT sound?’

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Customer inquiries: ‘How’s ZAT sound?’

Ask the right questions, in the right way, in the right order, for the right reasons. When betting on horses, the “trifecta” is when someone picks the first three finishers in exact order, which yields a much larger payout. The same payout principle is true when helping customers select tires and service for their vehicles.

Asking the right types of questions in the right order will yield the maximum benefit for the customer and the sales associate.

You would never open with this question, “How would you like to pay for this today?” The right questions in the right order will make all the difference.

Important questions

Last month we discussed basic questions such as open-ended questions, leading questions, and gathering or qualifying questions. This month we are going to talk about different types of questions that are no less important. These are rapport-establishing and trust-establishing questions along with trigger and temperature questions. In a typical sales engagement, you only have so much time to gather information and make your recommendations, so asking the right number of questions matters, as well.

One of the important, primary reasons we ask questions is to establish rapport and trust. Studies repeatedly show that customers place more emphasis on feelings than facts when making decisions. How the customer feels about you is more important than what you say. When you ask questions about family, friends or hobbies, you are establishing rapport.

For example, when looking at a customer’s tires in the parking lot, you notice a sticker/decal on the rear window that indicates the customer’s children play sports at the local high school. You can ask about who and what, etc. Your question leads to a rapport-establishing response.

People love to talk about themselves and their family and hobbies. When you respond to their comments in an appropriate way, they feel like they know you. This feeling will greatly enhance the likelihood of them purchasing from you and enhance their purchase experience. When you reply to this customer and tell them your business supports youth sports in the city, more trust and rapport is established.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to ask the right questions for establishing rapport and trust. However, once it’s been established, you must be very careful not to violate that trust.

Taking their temperature

Another important trait of questions is their ability to redirect engagement. Asking a different type of question indicates to the customer that we are moving on. After suggesting a particular tire and related services, you may want to take the customer’s temperature; is the customer warm to what you’re saying, are they cold, or are they hot? I’ve used what I call the “ZAT” method for years. Many of you use it, as well. Simply ask the customer, “How’s ZAT sound?” Customers know they are required to affirm or deny your recommendations. These types of questions are sometimes referred to as floater questions. You are trying to determine where the customer is in their thinking, so you float a question.

Another ZAT method question is, “Does ZAT make sense?” Their response helps bring the two of you closer to agreement and your opportunity to sell and serve. At this point in the conversation, the customer has given you some answers to your questions that indicate their thinking and temperature. This information should help you with the all-important follow-up questions.

Follow-up questions

Follow-up questions are great for confirming more accurately where the customer is in the buying process. A good follow-up question is best presented in the affirmative. For example, “I heard you say that you were interested in a long-wearing tire; is that correct?” The customer answers in the affirmative and may give you more information as you move toward closing questions.

Next month, we’ll spend some time looking at closing questions, but until then, let’s review.

  • Questions are very important to sales and satisfaction, and asking them in the right order matters.
  • The right order to ask: Opening questions, then qualifying and leading questions, followed by rapport- and trust-establishing questions.
  • Using the ZAT method, you can ask floating and follow-up questions.
  • Don’t ask questions just to ask questions; each and every one should be purposeful.
  • If the customer asks more questions than you, you may not be in control of the presentation.

In other words, questions are progressive and help you move the conversation toward a successful conclusion. Does ZAT make sense?   ■

Wayne Williams is president of ExSell Marketing Inc., a “counter intelligence” firm based in La Habra, Calif. He can be reached at

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