Today I’m going to explain a very simple concept called “porcupine questions.”  In the last article I discussed “ownership questions.”  Both of these concepts come from Tom Hopkins’ book.  Using porcupine questions is extremely valuable in the sales process, but they’re not something you’ll use in every pitch.  You’ll need to learn to listen carefully to prospects in order to recognize the proper moment for using porcupine questions.

I encourage you to read or listen to the previous teaching about ownership questions to refresh your memory.  Ownership questions will generate buyer signs from prospects if used properly.  When a prospect asks specific questions concerning your service or product, that is a buyer sign.  Depending on the progress of the sales process, you could move forward much more quickly by using a porcupine question.

Personally, I don’t prefer the name “porcupine question.”  The circumstance of what you would do if someone threw a porcupine at you is behind the unusual name.  The idea is that you would throw it back!  Thus, if a prospect asks you a question and you ask a question back, that is a porcupine question.

Consider these examples:

  • In car sales, a prospective buyer might ask, “Does this car come in blue?” You would reply with this porcupine question, “Would you like it in blue?”
  • Prospect: “Is this house going to be available as early as next month?”

You:  “Would you like to move in next month?”

  • Prospect: “How soon would you be able to get this credit card machine out to me?”

You:  “How soon would you like it?”

In all the five hundred or more sales people to whom I’ve listened either in telemarketing or on the field, I have never one time heard a proper response to a porcupine question.  Rather than asking a question of the prospect, the sales person said, “Let me tell you what I can do for you, if you like. I can…”  However, if the sales person had properly responded to the prospect at that point, the sale would be completed very quickly.  There are many intricacies in salesmanship; you need to practice making the correct response!  First, use ownership questions to encourage specific questions, buyer signs, from prospects to spur their thinking process.  Then practice how to respond to those buyer signs with a porcupine question.

Keep these items in mind while working on porcupine questions:

  • You cannot use this technique often during the same sales pitch without annoying the prospect. Consider this conversation:  The prospect asks, “How long does it usually take to send out the terminal?”  You respond with this porcupine question, “When would you like it here?” to which the prospect says, “Well, do you overnight?”  You would not be wise to respond again with a porcupine question such as, “What would you like me to do?”  Be listening for the proper moment for these questions; wait until the prospect is ready to buy.
  • I’ll give you an example of one I’ve used early in the pitch. One question I’ve heard often from prospects is, “What are your rates?”  Using a porcupine question here is amusing since prospects usually have no idea the rate they are currently paying.  I might respond, “What rates would you like?”  This is effective since it is unexpected.  Prospects’ usual response would be, “Well, I don’t know; I just want a better rate than I have now.”  This allows me to go right into a conversation which moves the sales process forward as I answer, “Okay, let me take a look.”  Rather than traveling the prospect’s path toward a negative response, I refuse that path by the unexpected porcupine question.
  • Now here is a porcupine question which I use late in the sales process. Often, I get questions about shipping, such as, “What is involved in this process?  How long does it normally take?”  My response would be, “When would you like to move all this forward?  What is your time frame right now?”  The porcupine question doesn’t have to be short.  By putting the question right back to the prospects, they can explain how they want the process to go.  After their answer, you say, “That sounds great to me.  Let’s move forward with this.  With your permission, let’s get the paperwork started.  (You’ll find an explanation of the paperwork close in my recent previous article or video.)  Are there any other questions you have for me?”

The porcupine question technique is quite simple, but you should listen carefully to seize the proper moment.  You will be amazed how many more deals you can close when you use the porcupine questions correctly.

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