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AWE: The Most Powerful Question in Sales

3 min readDecember 30, 2020

Jonas Salk was one of the greatest scientific minds in American history. He is most well known for discovering and developing the first successful polio vaccine.

He once said, “What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.”

If you, as a sales professional, can keep this solid bit of wisdom in mind, you will open the door to sales conversations with your buyers the likes of which you’ve never had before.

Think about the act of buying.

When a customer sets out to buy something, they start the process by asking themselves a question. “How can we grow 15% per year?” Or, “How can we increase productivity by 5%?”

It’s the process of answering that question that drives their buying process.

The challenge for a salesperson is to uncover that question.

In fact, this is the danger zone for too many sales reps.

You ask the first question on your list of discovery questions and record the answer. And, then you dutifully move right onto the second question on your list.

What you should be doing instead is digging into the prospect’s answers until you feel comfortable that they’ve revealed everything there is to know about that topic.

Just when you feel that you’ve gotten to the “A Ha” moment of discovery, where you really believe that you understand the buyer’s requirements, that’s when you need to keep in mind Jonas Salk’s words.

It’s at that moment you need to ask yourself: have I uncovered the essential question that the buyer is trying to answer?

It’s at that moment when you have to push back against the sense of confidence you might be feeling about having discovered the buyer’s requirements.

Because if you become satisfied at this point then you’re going to miss the real question.

The most effective way to keep digging is by asking what I call the world’s best follow-up question.

This question prompts buyers to reveal layer after layer of their thinking…

YOU: What are the biggest obstacles you face in achieving your 2021 growth targets?

BUYER: Onboarding new employees quickly enough to support our growth.

YOU: I see. That’s certainly a challenge. And what else can you tell me about that?

“And what else can you tell me about that?”

Michael Bungay Stanier, author of the bestselling book The Coaching Habit, calls this the AWE question.

I call it the world’s best follow-up question because it signals to your buyers that you’re not just going through the motions. That you are authentically interested in learning more about how you can help.

The AWE questions invites the buyer to respond to your curiosity with details about their goals, objectives and challenges that they aren’t providing to your competitors.

Until you know the question the buyer is trying to answer you need to keep extending your curiosity. And asking more questions. And AWE questions.

Resist the urge to do the usual robotic drive-by questioning of your buyers that has the unpleasant vibe of an interrogation.

Ask one question at a time. Just one question at a time. Listen slowly, and without judgment, to the answer.

Then ask the “and what else can you tell me about that?” question.

And, when you think you’ve gotten to the heart of that matter, ask yourself one more time: What’s the real question the buyer is trying to answer?

Follow Andy on LinkedIn.