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How to Sell Like Socrates and Close More Deals

3 min readJuly 9, 2014

The philosopher Socrates was famous for asking disciplined questions of his students in order to provoke thoughts, help them analyze concepts and get to the truth of issues. Socrates knew where he wanted his students to arrive. But rather than simply lecturing them, he realized that it was possible to lead students to an epiphany by asking a systematic series of questions. This method, known as Socratic questioning, is still widely used today by teachers and psychologists.

Socratic SalesThe same approach of asking methodical questions can be used by salespeople to lead prospects to a buying decision. Asking the right questions enables you to assess prospects’ needs and pain points. You can also use Socratic questioning to help your prospects imagine the new, better reality that’s available to them by purchasing your solution or service.

Ready to sell like Socrates? Here is how you can close more deals through a series of methodical questions.

Build Rapport

Virtually any time we meet someone new, one of the first things we do is ask them a question. When prospecting, consider opening sales conversations by asking a question that shows that you appreciate their time. Try asking:

  • “Did I catch you at a bad time?”

Most prospects will actually accommodate you, even if it’s with a caveat, such as “Sure, but I have just a couple of minutes.” If you truly caught them at a bad time, prospects will make it clear. Then you can hopefully schedule a time for an appointment.

If your call isn’t cold, simple questions like “Did you enjoy the weekend?” can help start a conversation off on the right foot.

Begin with Broad Questions

A good way to begin selling is to find out what a prospects’ needs are. When I was in sales, I thought of my job as helping clients find the right solutions to suit their needs, which required pointed questions. But to sell like Socrates, you shouldn’t simply ask, “So what products are you interested in buying?” Instead, ask broad questions that can get them to divulge the information you are looking for while simultaneously building a relationship. Two question that I love are:

  • “How has your industry changed in the past couple of years?”
  • “What are your biggest challenges?”

Questions like this will get your prospects to start divulging pain points. They might talk about an influx of competitors that are taking market share, which can be excellent for leading into a discussion about how to gain an advantage over those competitors.

Empower Prospects to Imagine a Cure for Their Pain Points

When asking prospects about their pain points, it’s powerful to ask questions that enable your prospects to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

  • “What products are you using right now?”
  • “So in a perfect world, how could that product be better?”

If your prospect is already using a product or service similar to yours, these questions will tell you what they don’t like about the current solution, and what you should stress about what you have.

Inspire Your Prospects to Envision a Successful Outcome

Asking aspirational questions can help prospects to really see the benefits of making a purchase. Here are some questions that enable your prospects to imagine the value:

  • How do you think implementing a solution could help you meet your goals?
  • Say you had no budgetary restrictions – what kinds of changes would you like to make happen?

Socrates realized that by asking the right questions, he could lead his students to an epiphany. Ask the right questions in the right order, and you’ll virtually never have to do any hard selling, deal with far fewer sales objections, and shorten your sales cycle. By taking a Socratic approach to sales, your prospects will already have realized how much they need/want your offerings by the time you ask the final question: “So do we have a deal?