25 questions that help ad salespeople uncover the needs of advertisers

The most useful tools in a salesperson’s tool box are questions.

Good questions get the customer talking and help the sales person uncover needs that their products can fill. Questions keep the customer engaged and help them to see the value your products offer. When I am interviewing a customer, I try to cover what I call the “5 C’s.” Here they are:

  1. Company: how their business works
  2. Customers: who they want to reach
  3. Current Marketing: how are they trying to reach those people
  4. Competition: who they need to beat
  5. Challenges: what they worry about

The answers to the 5 C’s questions will give you everything you need to know to sell the customer and to develop an effective program to help them achieve their goals.

Here are my favorite 5 C questions:


  1. What led you to get into this business?
  2. What are your goals for the next quarter? Six months? Year?
  3. What do you see as your greatest strengths as a company?
  4. What are the most profitable products/services you offer?
  5. How do you want people to think of your business?


  1. Can you describe your best customers to me?
  2. How far do your customers come from to shop here?
  3. What is a typical customer worth to you?
  4. Is there a group of customers you have trouble reaching?
  5. If I asked your current customers why they come here, what would they tell me?

Current marketing

  1. What types of marketing do you currently use?
  2. When you set up the current program what were your goals?
  3. How effective is your program in achieving these goals?
  4. Why do you think your current program is (isn’t) working?
  5. Do you have a website? How do you invite people to your site?


  1. Who are you competitors? Local firms? National chains?
  2. How has competition affected the market?
  3. What have you done differently to meet your competition?
  4. Are there areas of your business where you face more or less competition?
  5. If I asked you why I should deal with you rather than with your competition, what would you tell me?


  1. What keeps you up at night? What are the biggest challenges you face in running this business?
  2. How is the market changing? What new challenges do you see in the future?
  3. What steps are you taking to meet these challenges?
  4. If you had a magic wand that could change anything about your business what would it be?
  5. What strategies have you tried to alleviate this challenge?

By Jim Busch

Jim Busch has more than 28 years experience selling print advertising and has developed a reputation as one of the top sales trainers in the community newspaper industry. Jim is a faculty member of the Leadership Institute, the training arm of the Association of Free and Community Papers. He also writes a monthly column for the AFCP’s Free Paper INK magazine and the “Link and Learn” Column for PaperChain. In 2008 Jim founded Ideas and Eyeballs Sales Training and Consulting to provide sales training and management consulting services to publishers and industry associations.