Listen for the “Problem-Trigger” Words

in Listening, Questioning

Quiz time. Here’s a situation. Think of the very next thing to leave your mouth in response:

On a call with a prospect, someone who has contacted you after visiting your website says, "Our issue is that we need to_____."

And then let’s assume she mentions a problem that your product or service helps solve.

Ok. Did you respond with something like, "Oh, well let me tell you how we can fix that."?

If you did, BZZZZZ, wrong!

That would be pitching, in a non-sports sense, as opposed to finding out exactly WHY she said what she did. And that will give you the reasons why they will buy from you. Plus, then they are selling themselves, which is much better than you trying to sell them.

Too often sales reps hear what I call "problem-trigger words" and then begin puking out a presentation.

These words are signs that your prospect/customer has, or perceives, a problem. They might not explain it fully without your prompting.

Listen for,

"We need to …"

"We’re thinking about…"

"We’re considering…"

"We’re noticing…"

"The challenge is…"

"We’re planning on…"

"The problem is…"

These are all invitations for you to zero in on these areas to root out the specific reasons they will buy from you.

For example,

"Tell me more about that…"

"Let’s discuss that a little more…"

"What do you think is causing that?"

"What other effects is that having?"

And of course you want to quantify their pain or problem whenever you can:

"How long has that been going on?"

"How often does that happen?"

"What is that costing you?"

The keys to success here?

1. Listen as if your livelihood depended on grasping every word that comes from your prospect/customer.

2. Take notes and write down the SPECIFIC terminology they use, so you can repeat it back to them in your questioning, and eventual recommendation.

3. Do NOT jump in with your recommendation until you have fully developed an understanding of their issue. Which also carries the benefit of them thinking more about the problem, therefore making them more receptive to your suggestion.

For a great resource on other powerful questions to ask, in another of my Audio Seminars for the Platinum members of my Telesales Success Inner Circle I interviewed Jim Meisenheimer who shared his "12 Best Questions to ask Prospects and Customers."

You can hear an excerpt from that program with one of the 12 questions, and see more about that Audio Seminar, including how you can listen to it within minutes by going to

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

telemarketing June 17, 2011 at 4:44 am

A good article Art; as I was reading through it I was expecting you to give a response of ‘I am sorry to hear that’ (which some people would advise doing – but this acknowledges responsibility).

Good that your first point was to ‘Listen’ – something all sales people need to practice more 🙂

Thanks for the post – very helpful as a refresher.


Morris Porter April 17, 2012 at 12:15 pm


Great article on the importance of both listening and using open-ended questions/layering with your customers. It’s still amazes me how few sales professionals have the patience or discipline to listen. Far too many people work too hard in getting their message out before they understand what their prospect wants or needs.

Keep up the great work!!


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