Question Based Selling Summary

How the book “Question Based Selling” came about.

A catastrophe in Thomas’ life caused him to cut his 70 hour selling week dramatically but remarkably his sales doubled. His book is about how he achieved that feat. 

By the way, many people think this book is the 2nd best book on sales questions ever written (behind SPIN Selling).


“Have you ever noticed that companies all over the world spend millions of dollars telling salespeople what to say, but they spend almost nothing teaching them what to ask?”

Question have always been the best way to make sales, SPIN research proved that (for larger B2B selling anyway), but “prospects weren’t nearly as excited about answering my sales questions as I was about asking them. That’s because every salesperson who called was asking the same old sales questions…”

So, “you must ask questions that make prospects want to respond.”

This book is about how to ask questions to:

  • pique the prospect’s interest
  • establish your credibility
  • uncover greater needs 
  • solicit more accurate information about where you stand
  • how to identify key players

Part I: A Short Course on QBS Strategy

Chapter 1: Increasing Your Probability of Success

In sales, the average success rate for engaging new prospects is between two to five percent.

Selling has become increasingly more difficult. Prospects have less time...yet decision makers are receiving more sales calls than ever before and they have more responsibility than ever but generally fewer resources.

Buyers simply cannot answer every attempt to contact them. And the answer is not to simply chase them harder. 

Secret #1 Salespeople are being held at arm’s length, and rejection is making it more difficult for them to stay motivated.

The Rules of Engagement Have Changed.

Sales is no longer just a numbers game where “turn more, earn more” was king.

Sales managers say to establish relationships with “gatekeepers,” but how do you do that when gatekeepers have been replaced by voicemail?

So, you leave a ““professional sounding” message” but so does every other salesperson.

Secret #2 In order to achieve above-average results, one must first be open to thinking about above-average concepts.

This is difficult when many people are averse to change and especially so since selling is often a process of habit.

Secret #3 A salesperson who continues doing exactly the same things should expect exactly the same results.

This is a reference to Einstein’s quoted definition of insanity

It makes sense to refine your sales process “But since every sale is unique, the sales process can never be a rigid formula that stays exactly the same in every situation.”

“One of our goals in QBS is to simplify the sale.”

Secret #4 The most effective way to increase your probability of success is to decrease your risk of failure.

Secret #5 The greater their risk, the more reluctant salespeople are to pick up the telephone and initiate contact.

The risk of rejection is the greatest challenge salespeople face.

In sales, confidence is critical. But how self-assured can a salesperson be, given that the average success rate when trying to initiate a conversation with new prospects is less than 5 percent?

Secret #6 Eliminate the risk...and salespeople will run to the phones.

You can significantly reduce your risk of rejection by knowing where the other person stands before you actually pop the question, this is often called a “trial Close”

Thomas refers to this as a “single ping” an analogy he got from the movie “The Hunt for Red October”

Secret #7 The average sale requires five closing attempts before prospects are ready to make an emotional commitment, but the average salesperson never makes it to the fifth attempt.

There is a reason for the requirement to close multiple times …

And I have written about it here

Secret #8 Once it’s clear that a prospect is interested, securing their commitment to take the next step is easy.

What If They’re Just Not Interested?

..”in my opinion, it’s much better to approach them at another time, under different circumstances.” … “while forceful tactics may pressure some people into saying yes, this type of aggression rarely fosters a lasting business relationship. Secondly, timing is critical in sales.”

Secret #9 When you reach out to someone by saying, “We ought to do something sometime,” the worst they can say is yes.

“I usually open the conversation by asking, “Did I catch you at a bad time?”

If they respond,

“No, this is not a bad time,” then you have their permission to proceed.

If they respond,

“Yes, this is a bad time,” then you know that plowing forward and interrupting them wouldn’t have succeeded anyway.”

Your response,

“When should I call back?”

Chapter 2: Mismatching: The Avoidable Risk 

“in the strategic sale. The harder you push, the harder your prospects and customers push back. In Question Based Selling, this is a counterproductive response behaviour we call mismatching.”

Secret #10 Mismatching is the instinctive tendency of individuals to resist, push back, or respond in a contrarian manner.

What we really want is to be able to enter into a dialogue with our prospects. So that, we can explore their situation in more depth.

Secret #12 Mismatching communicates disagreement, which increases your risk and lowers your probability of success.

Secret #13 Mismatching is more of an instinctive defence mechanism than an intuitive response.

It’s usually driven by the need to feel valuable.

Secret #14 A mismatched response satisfies the needs of the mismatcher more than it disagrees with the content of the discussion.

The Mismatching Instinct Comes in Four Flavours

  • The Contradiction
  • The Unnecessary Clarification
  • One-Upsmanship
  • The Dreaded “I Know”

Secret #15 Prospects and customers have an instinctive need to be perceived as valuable too.

This relates to the last two “Flavours” as “most people have a reflexive need to protect against feeling inadequate.”

Secret #18 If you are a habitual mismatcher, then you are shooting yourself in the foot and you must STOP immediately!

Secret #19 The harder you push, the harder your prospects and customers will push back.

Telling Is Not Selling
Ask More Questions and Make Fewer Statements

Five QBS Strategies That Reduce Your Risk

Secret #20 Mismatching is not an objection; therefore, it should not be handled like one.

Secret #21 If your current approach to sales is statement-based, then your comments will actually invite mismatched responses.

Questions are not easily mismatched and actually help to satisfy the other person’s need to add value by inviting them to contribute to the conversation.

If you are credible the prospect is more willing to openly share.

Making prospects and customers curious is the most effective way to engage them in a productive sales conversation.

Secret #22 It’s impossible for someone who’s curious to be inviting you in and pushing you away at the same time.’s important to note that some prospects will disagree, but they will remain silent about it.

Chapter 3: The Herd Theory

Traditional reference selling is highly overrated.

Positive references are a dime a dozen and how many sellers give case studies from unhappy customers?

And remember references can be mismatched 

I wrote about prospect's reaction to references in a post here.

Secret #23 Potential buyers are instinctively trying to reduce their risk of making a bad decision.

Secret #24 How the rest of the “herd” feels is more important than any one person’s opinion or recommendation.

Some sellers suggest that “since other customers are already using their solution, you should use it too”, this is a push strategy.
However, Herd Theory which is a pull strategy.

Secret #25 When you’re trying to make sure someone doesn’t get “left out,” their next four words will be, “Left out of what?”

e.g. “Once we let them know we were expecting a record turnout, it was easy to ask for a commitment by saying, “Do you have your calendar handy?”

Secret #26 Most prospects are very interested in, and highly influenced by, what “everyone else” is doing.

I wrote about this in my webpage here under the heading "Social Validation"

Secret #27 If the rest of the herd seems to be moving in a certain direction, other prospects and customers will want to know why.

“Popcorn Credibility” .. Thomas’ term for referencing celebrity users of your product or service 

I wrote about this in my webpage here under the heading "Authority"

Secret #29 A salesperson’s ability to demonstrate account-specific knowledge translates into greater credibility.

Secret #30 Surrounding prospects with a credible herd reduces your risk because you become the messenger, not the message.

The Herd Theory accomplishes the same objective as Feel, Felt, Found, but without the risks.

If you dont know it go here to find out about Feel Felt Found

Chapter 4: Gold Medals & German Shepherds

To succeed in sales, sellers have to motivate potential buyers to want to take action. But we (as sellers) also have to recognise that people are motivated in different ways. While some people are motivated to run fast toward gold medals, many others will run even faster from German Shepherds.

I wrote about this here

Secret #31 If you want to motivate people, then it’s more important to think about what they want, rather than what you want.

See the page here for my fishing story to explain further

Secret #32 Competence, credibility, expertise, and value will outsell overeagerness every time.

“For decades, sellers have been told that attitude is everything, and the more enthusiastic you are, the more excited your prospects will become.”

Thomas believes (and I believe) that if you can identify the type of person you are dealing with, and better understand how they are motivated, then you will be able to more effectively position the value of your offer.”

In this regard many sales trainers recommend defining prospects as: Driver, Amiable, Expressive, or Analytical and adjusting to each type. But how ? 

So you sell benefits to move towards or problems to move away from rather than trying to deal with a Amiable or an Expressive.

Secret #33 Keep it simple. You will be more effective just being yourself, rather than trying to be something you’re not.

Secret #35 By positioning both gold medals and German Shepherds, you will get more bang out of each benefit.

Chapter 5: Fuelling the Sales Process 

By helping prospective buyers identify potential needs, sellers can expand their opportunity to provide solutions and more opportunities means increased sales.

Secret #37 Without needs, there are no solutions; and without solutions, it’s virtually impossible to establish value.

Searching for problems is not a bad strategy. But we must realise that pain is not the only cause of prospect needs.

Thomas defines “a need as a discrepancy between what is and what could be.”

Secret #38 To alleviate pain, prospects will seek relief. To satisfy a desire, prospects will attempt to improve their existing condition.

Secret #39 Active needs occur when prospects recognise that they are no longer satisfied with the status quo.

Secret #40 Latent needs exist when prospects fail to recognise that they are no longer satisfied with the status quo.

The Lions Share of Opportunity

The low hanging fruit of “ActiveNeeds” would seem to be the easiest sales approach but unfortunately people with “active needs” are only a very small percentage of prospects.

And,”dangling potential solutions out in front of a prospect with latent needs is a low percentage play.”

Secret #41 “How badly you’re bleeding usually dictates how fast you drive to the hospital.” The greater the prospect’s sense of urgency, the more likely they are to act on your solutions.

Thus, “Turning a prospect’s complacency into an active desire is the real game in professional selling.”

Secret #42 Uninformed prospects are much less likely to make a favourable buying decision.

So, change their perspective by offering new information or by asking questions that will help them discover opportunities to improve their existing condition.

Secret #43 Urgency sells! It increases the prospect’s desire to satisfy their needs, and it also increases your probability of success.

Identifying needs is fundamental to any successful formula in selling. No matter how exciting your solution may be, prospects who don’t recognise their own needs won’t recognise the value of your product or service. 

Every question you deliver has three strategic attributes—a Scope, a Focus, and a Disposition; and how you manage these three attributes will ultimately determine how productively your prospects and customers respond.

If this summary is taking a bit long to read you can always purchase the book via the image link below

Part II: Leveraging the Most Powerful Tool In Sales

Chapter 6: Conversational Layering 

Relationships are the key to selling effectively and QBS recommends Conversational Layering to do this.

But sellers must first “earn the right” to have a relationship.

Secret #45 Unless a relationship already exists, most prospects are reluctant to openly share, especially with a salesperson.

It’s one of the great ironies of selling. Salespeople are taught to “open” their conversations with open-ended questions, but prospects and customers are usually reluctant to open up and share their thoughts, feelings, and concerns with someone they don’t know,

QBS focuses on getting prospects to want to buy, to want to answer questions, and to want to listen rather than trying to get prospects to make a buying decision or listen to your pitch.

Secret #47 Credibility is the basis for every relationship; and the more you have, the more your prospects will want to engage.

Unfortunately, salespeople have a bad habit of trying to communicate credibility by claiming their own greatness.

Secret #49 Curiosity is the key that unlocks the rest of the sales process.

Secret #50 Salespeople who understand how to make prospects curious will never have to worry about being successful.

Chapter 7: What Makes People Curious? 

If you want to engage new prospects in productive sales conversation, you essentially have two choices. You can be aggressive and try to force your way in, or you can make prospects curious enough to want more information about the value you provide so they will invite you in. Not surprisingly, most of us would rather be invited in than to try and use brute force.

You can start evoking curiosity by saying, “Can I ask you a question?” and by asking for smaller commitments, you make it easier for prospects to engage—at least initially.

QBS suggest don’t start probing for needs without first saying, 

“Can I ask a couple specifics about your current …… environment?” 

Likewise, you should rarely offer a suggestion without asking, 

“Would you like to hear some feedback?” 

Secret #53 Rather than positioning value to pique the prospect’s interest, QBS piques the prospect’s interest in order to position value.

Thomas stated that “95 percent of the people I called, called me back. 

Why did they call back? 

It’s because when I left a voicemail message, I didn’t think about features, benefits, solutions, needs, or relationships. I only thought about one thing, what could I say that will cause this person to become curious enough to call me back.”

And, when they call you back you start by telling them why you called.

Secret #56 With email, the subject should make prospects curious so they will make your message a high priority.

Salespeople have a bad habit of using the subject field to satisfy the recipient’s curiosity, by telling them what the message is about.

Keep the curiosity by using phrases like, 

Subject Phrases: Two Questions... On second thought... Wanted to ask a favour... Would like your opinion about... Per George Thompson... 

Five QBS Strategies That Make Prospects Curious include: 

  • provocative questions, 
  • partial information, 
  • glimpses of value, 
  • newness, and momentum.

 Don't forget about Scarcity as well as Herd Theory.

I wrote about Scarcity  here

Chapter 8: Establishing Credibility in the Sale 

QBS shows you how to establish credibility very early in the sale by narrowing the scope of your questions.

Secret #59 Sellers begin to have credibility when prospects form a favourable impression about their competence and value.

Secret #60 Salespeople enter the sales process with near-zero credibility.

Three Ways to Establish Credibility:

  • by leverage existing relationships.
  • by managing the scope of your questions. (Scope refers to a question’s broadness or narrowness.)
  • by Focusing

Secret #61 Open-ended questions are great tools for expanding relationships, but they don’t help establish your credibility.

Secret #63 Prospects are reluctant to answer questions until the salesperson has proven that he or she is indeed credible.

Sellers can raise their prospect’s confidence by asking questions that demonstrate high levels of competence and credibility.

Ask a Series of short Diagnostic Questions to establish your own credibility.

Secret #65 If a prospect who is curious also believes that you are credible, then uncovering needs and presenting solutions is easy.

Secret #66 Starting with the bigger picture allows you to probe more deeply into more specific areas.

Offering a choice makes your questions easier to answer, which is particularly important at the beginning of a sales conversation when you don’t yet have the prospect’s full attention or their trust.

You don’t have to be an expert to ask expert questions.

Start by seeking out successful salespeople in your business and compile a list of their most frequently asked questions, and then take the time to memorise them.

(Personally, I started my sales calls on the smaller companies that used a new product I was starting to sell, by the time I got to the big users I knew the industry jargon and more about the problems producers encountered.)

Be Careful Not to Qualify Too Early by not starting with questions about the prospect’s budget, their time frame for making a decision, or anything else that might cause them to pull back.

Chapter 9: Escalate the Value of Your Questions

To provide solutions, sellers must first uncover a need but we don’t want prospects to feel “pumped” for information.

Escalating the “Focus” of your questions will uncover greater needs and increase the value of your sales conversations.

Secret #70 Small talk might be good for building rapport, but it isn’t nearly as valuable as BIG TALK … focusing on key business issues.

If you dissect a sales conversation, you will notice that the questions being asked probe to uncover one of the following: 

  • the status of the opportunity, 
  • an issue the prospect may have, 
  • the implications of that specific issue, 
  • or whether a potential solution provides value. 

Because each of these sales questions has a different strategic focus, we categorise them as either: 

  • Status Questions, 
  • Issue Questions, 
  • Implication Questions, 
  • or Solution Questions. 

Very similar to SPIN Selling.

Secret #73 Most purchase decisions are emotional, and prospects have to feel that they are making the right decision.

Emotional vs. Analytical … It’s important to escalate the focus of your questions because strategic decisions are made emotionally, rather than analytically.

Status Questions and Issue Questions are analytical in nature.

Status Questions are low in mutual value because prospects aren’t learning anything new. They already know the status.

Make it a point to ask enough Status Questions to establish your credibility, and then move on to Issue Questions.

Issue Questions…  In almost every sales situation, the first Issue Question Thomas asks is, 

“To what extent is … important“ 

which provides a seamless transition between Status Questions and Issue Questions as well as uncovering needs and encouraging people to expand their responses.          

Secret #76 By probing for gold medals and German Shepherds, you have an opportunity to uncover twice as many needs.

Use the Herd Theory when Raising Key Issues.

Secret #77 Greater needs cause prospects to feel a greater sense of urgency for finding a solution and making a purchase.

People aren’t going to buy just because a problem or a desire surfaces as an issue. Rather, they buy when these issues become detrimental enough, or opportune enough, to justify a purchase. That’s why it’s critical to uncover the implications of issues that get raised by asking Implication Questions.

Once a prospect acknowledges an issue as being important, salespeople must probe further to understand why the issue is important.

Secret #78 The more implications you uncover, the easier it is for prospects to justify a favourable purchase decision.

Ask a series of Implication Questions to expand each one of the prospect’s issues as they get raised.

There’s no need to make this difficult. To uncover the first issue, you simply ask, “To what extent is (Issue 1) important?” When it’s time to move on to the next issue, simply ask, “What about (Issue 2)? To what extent is (Issue 2) important to your business?”

Use Global Questions to Develop the Need which is a way to say, “Tell me more.”

You might ask,

“To what extent is security important to your business?” 

Prospect: “Security is very important.” 

Seller: “How do you mean?”

Secret #79 Asking, “How do you mean?” will give you great insight into what other people are thinking and feeling.

Be careful, though. 

Asking, “How do you mean?” is very different than asking, “What do you mean?” 

“What do you mean?” causes some people to get defensive. When people feel their opinion is being challenged, they tend to close

Because very few products enjoy superiority in every area, and you will want to focus your conversations on those areas where you provide the most value.

Secret #80 Solution Questions motivate prospects to move forward by focusing their attention on solving the problem.

Solution Questions are also great qualifying tools. If your prospect is not willing to move forward, then something is wrong.

It’s smart to make closing the prospect’s idea.

If your prospects are curious, they will want to find out more about how your solutions address their specific needs.

You make prospects curious? 

By asking Solution Questions that give prospects a glimpse of value for how they can improve their existing condition.

Another way to get prospects to focus on benefits rather than problems is to ask them to visualise the perfect solution.

“Mr. Prospect, in your mind, what would the ideal solution to this problem look like?”


“If money was no object in your decision, what would you do to solve this problem?”

Chapter 10: How to Solicit More Accurate Feedback

Disposition is the third and final attribute that characterises strategic questions in QBS. 

Solicit more open, honest, and accurate feedback from your prospects, customers, friends, and coworkers—by neutralising the disposition of your questions.

Secret #82 Prospects are reluctant to share bad news, and most salespeople aren’t particularly good at asking for it.

Secret #83 The risk of failure and the possibility of hearing bad news makes the “hard” questions in sales very difficult to ask.

Rather than probing for information, they probe for positive information.

Secret #84 Salespeople who bias their questions positively are hoping that prospects will tell them what they want to hear.

In QBS, we say these questions are positively dispositioned.

When a prospect senses that you are hoping for good news, they are more likely to respond cautiously and diplomatically, rather than openly and honestly because no one likes to deliver bad news.

Soliciting feedback from your prospects and customers isn’t difficult. 

What’s difficult is soliciting open, honest, and accurate feedback.

To do it simply offer the prospect a choice to respond either positively or constructively.

By asking prospects for both good news and bad, you take the pressure off by inviting them to give you an accurate response.

“Ms. Prospect, would it be possible to meet later this week...or would that put a burden on your schedule?”

Neutralising the disposition of your questions is actually easier than you might think. 

Just adding by adding “or no” onto the end of any positive question.

Secret #87 Having an accurate read on your sales opportunities gives you a strategic advantage over your competition.

When you neutralise the disposition of your questions two things happen. First, if there are any problems brewing, you will find out about them. Secondly, if there’s good news, prospects will not only share the good news, they will be emphatically positive. In QBS, we call this reflexive behaviour the emotional rescue.

Humbling Disclaimers.

Using humbling disclaimers is another way to get prospects to openly share.

“I’m not sure how to ask this, but...” 

“Without being too forward, can I ask about...” 

“At the risk of getting myself in trouble, would you mind if...” 

“I don’t want to ask the wrong thing, but...”

“I don’t mean to push, but can I ask you about the budget for this project?”

Secret #90 Humbling disclaimers give other people an opportunity to “rescue” you before you even deliver the question.

As written earlier, some prospects are reluctant to share their problems and concerns, especially with a salesperson. 

That’s why Tom suggests questions like:

“Something is holding you back, isn’t it?” 

“Is it just me, or is something bothering you about this proposal?” 

“What other concerns do you have?”

“Mr. Prospect, my boss keeps asking when this sale is going to close. I’d much rather be accurate than optimistic, so should I tell him that we are in good shape to complete the deal by the end of the month, or should I tell him not to get his hopes up?”

“Realistically, what are the chances your management will approve this deal before year-end?” “If you were a betting man, would you say this deal is getting ready to close, or would you say we’re at risk?”

All of these are great trial closes, and unless a prospect is intentionally stringing you along, they’ll come forward with information that will tell you exactly where you stand in the sale.

Tom makes it a point to ask questions like:

“What will you do if your boss says the price is too high?” 

“What if someone on the committee wants to delay the project?” 

“What if they ask about different maintenance options?”

If your champion has the answers to these questions down pat, this exercise will boost their confidence. But if they hesitate, you can work with them to reinforce key points that support a decision for your offering.

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