Layers of Questions Can Bring You Closer to a Deal

BY Jessica Helinski
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Asking layers of sales questions is a technique that reps can use when learning how to best serve a prospect. It involves being thoughtful about how you ask questions, ensuring that each question is asked in an order that is most effective. Prospects, according to HubSpot contributor David Hoffeld, “have layers that you as the salesperson must understand to best solve their problems. To do this, we use a concept called layered questions.” He explains that this approach involves three “layers”:

  1. First Layer Questions
  2. Second Layer Questions
  3. Third Layer Questions

Layers of questions: How it works

Hoffeld explains that this technique, inspired by the book The Science of Selling, involves a series of questions asked in a very specific order. By doing so, salespeople can build upon information to really get to the root of their buyer’s motivation.

The first layer

The very first set of questions in these layers will set the foundation for learning about the prospect, their business and their needs. “First-​layer questions are preliminary questions that initiate a conversation by revealing thoughts, facts, behaviors, and situations,” Hoffeld writes. He adds that most reps actually ask these first-​layer questions, but then don’t add any more layers. They simply get the most basic information and stop there. This is a mistake, he believes. “First-​layer questions only expose rudimentary information; they don’t provide a thorough understanding of the buyer,” he explains. “This limits the salesperson’s ability to customize the experience for those buyers.”

Examples include:

  • What percentage of market share do you currently have?
  • What are the requirements you have established for this project?
  • What is your process for deciding which vendor you will choose?
  • What is your budget for this project?

Layer two

The second layer of questions delves a bit deeper, and as mentioned, many reps miss this opportunity to incorporate layers. But, top sellers don’t. They understand the value that these more probing questions can deliver. “Second-​layer questions ask ‘why,’” he writes. “They encourage buyers to explain first-​layer responses in more detail. These types of questions are vital because they prompt prospective customers to think through a thought, fact, behavior, or situation.” This second set helps sellers “synthesize” the responses that they received from the first set. This is why the order in which you ask these questions, the layers, is so important. 

Examples include: 

  • Would you ever consider investing in a product that did not include this feature?
  • May I ask why you chose that vendor?
  • That sounds like it is very important to you. May I ask why?
  • Why is it important to solve this concern right away?

One more layer

You can read about the third and final layer in Hoffeld’s article. And he also includes script with all layers as an example to guide reps. This strategy of question layers navigates sellers to a more thoughtful and organized approach to uncovering needs; it also helps build rapport. These question layers help the rep get closer to closing the deal. As he explains, “You need to layer your questions just right so that your sales positioning aligns perfectly with their needs. When you ask meaningful questions in the right order you can influence your prospect’s buying decision.”