Socrates & Sales Presentations

socrates_sales_presentationsThere’s not a lot known about Socrates, (469 BC to 399 BC), but it’s fairly certain he didn’t provide sales training for presentations.

However, he did provide a legacy of questioning used to solve a problem and produce an answer, which became known as the Socratic Method.

This method is now a commonly used teaching technique in law schools. Professors ask students a series of questions, eventually leading students to question their assumptions and beliefs upon which their original answers were based.

The Socratic Method teaches critical thinking rather than memorizing tons of data.

And the real Socratic power is that the student comes to their own understanding. They’re not told “this is the answer”.

By thinking through the questions the final answer is very much their own – expressed in their words, their thoughts and their feelings.

That level of ownership makes the answer a very powerful, memorable and important one.

And it’s these two points (asking-not telling, and self-ownership of the answer) that are fundamental to successful selling, and presentations in particular.

Socratic Sales Training

If Socrates was a sales trainer and sold a sales philosophy, I’d bet it sound something like this:


(or in English…)

In the discovery phase of a selling situation, the salesperson asks the customer a series of questions to  define the customer’s pain points and desired benefits.

The salesperson would then go away and create their customized solution that rids the customer of their pain and delivers their benefits.

In the presentation phase of this selling situation, the salesperson questions the customer again.

This time to reconfirm their understanding of customer pain and desired benefits.

Only then does the salesperson present the features of their customized solution. Referencing each feature back to a customer pain and showing how it delivers a desired benefit.

2 Types of Questions

Socrates was a smart guy, the Oracle told him so. And being a smart sales trainer, he would lead salespeople to see there are two types of questions. Each used at different times for different reasons.

#1 Discovery Questions

These questions are used in the discovery phase to uncover the customer’s pain points and desired benefits. At this time the salesperson doesn’t know, and the customer kind of knows, but nothing’s really explicit. That’s a lot of discovery that needs to take place. But that’s what you expect.

2) Socratic Questions

Socratic Questions are used in the presentation phase, after the customized solution has been prepared based on the answers to the discovery questions.

First, the salesperson sets the stage, such as “this is what we understand about your situation”.

Then the salesperson gently, gently questions the customer again about specific pain points and desired benefits. Hopefully touching on the vital few only, and not all of them.

Socratic Questions are used by the salesperson to reconfirm their understanding of the customer’s pain.

But more importantly, they’re asked so the customer (through their answers) will reclaim ownership of their pain and desired benefits.

Through Socratic Questions customers recognize this is their situation, and not the salesperson making it up to sell them.

The Power of Socratic Sales Presentations

When salespeople lead customers through their own (customers’) thinking using Socratic questioning, customers own the answer to their problem.

And if the salesperson did their homework (discovery questions and customized solution), customers’ answers are right in front of them to buy.

Selling is Not Telling

As you can guess, Socrates was the first sales trainer to come up with that quote.

A great resource for sales questions is SPIN Selling, if you haven’t read it you should.

What are you questioning?

Chris Arlen
President, Service Performance

Questions or Ideas?

Send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt