Neurological Levels – Questioning Model

Asking sales questions using the neurological levels model

We have previously explored the neurological levels model as a way of developing rapport with our prospects. However, it can also be used as a questioning model that allows you to ask questions that truly motivate your prospect into taking action. This is particularly useful when you are using a particularly emotional sales approach.

The neurological levels model allows us to identify the areas to make an impact that will facilitate lasting change. If we make a change higher in the model, this will impact all of the more superficial levels.
sales questioning model - neurological levels
As a trainer, I have frequently been asked to impact the results that salespeople get by impacting their behaviour. The belief in training is that if you give people different skills and capabilities, their behaviour will change and this will impact their environment or results. However, I know so many salespeople that have the ability to sell, but they don’t do what is required.

You have to ask yourself the question ‘why’. Why do salespeople that have all the talent in the world not get the results that they are capable of? Why don’t they do the activity that is required to earn the commissions they want and the company desires? Is there something holding them back? I have seen sales managers give motivational speeches on call days and salespeople respond with completely blank faces as if the message didn’t even reach their ears. (If you are a sales manager, I guarantee you have sales people in your team that have a similar response!)

This applies to so many other areas of life as well. Why don’t people lose weight when they know exactly what to do? Why don’t people stop smoking when they know the exact impact of smoking on the body? If information was enough, everyone would be perfect already.

The truth is that giving new skills rarely impacts behaviour. Saying this will probably upset every sales trainer out there that teaches cold calling skills, or objection handling skills, and probably contradicts the vast majority of what I believe in (as written in my book – NLP: Next Level Persuasion) unless you understand one thing. Knowledge is only useful IF and only if that knowledge is put into practice.

If you think that what I teach will make you the superstar salesperson that you have dreamed of becoming, it will not. There is no difference between a man that reads and does not learn and the man that cannot read. ACTION is the ultimate secret to success. Massive action, combined with learning through trial and error combined with coaching is the ultimate success formula. Without action, nothing matters.

So why don’t knowledgeable, skilled sales people take action? The answer lies ABOVE their skills and capabilities, in the realms of beliefs, values and identity. This is also the area you need to ask questions if you are going to motivate your prospect to take the action you want them to take.

However, in order to ask these questions, you MUST have rapport! Don’t think that you can ask the more probing questions without that mutual understanding of empathy that exists between two people in rapport. With no rapport, the same question appears rude and intrusive. With rapport, the question is transformed into a heartfelt enquiry into how best to serve your prospect. If you follow this process however, I guarantee that you will develop the rapport throughout the process that allows you to ask the deep probing questions.

NOTE – If you are going to use the neurological levels questioning model, you must be comfortable with silence. The questions you will be asking will be probing the mindset of your prospect and may not be easy to answer. There will be pauses, but you risk losing the impact of this questioning model if you fill these gaps with talking. Become comfortable with putting your prospect on the spot and getting them to do the work, rather than taking the edge off the situation.


Want to know the secret behind using this model to motivate your prospect like never before? The way to do this is make a change at the IDENTITY level of the neurological levels model. By changing someone’s identity of themselves, you will create a ripple effect that impacts all of the levels below. This will cause a change in values that impacts someone’s motivation. You will change someone’s beliefs which will determine the actions they take to fulfill their values. Assuming people have the skills required, this will lead to the change in behaviour that impacts the results they want to achieve. If you are ready to discover how to impact someone’s identity, let’s look at how to use the neurological levels as a questioning model.

BUT (isn’t there always a but!) you have to ask ALL of the questions that lead to identity before you can ask that question. You also need to know how to use metaphors effectively to be successful with this questioning model.

A metaphor is a way of describing an entire concept by using an associated item. For example, the famous phrase by Shakespeare ‘All the world’s a stage’ is a metaphor. When you consider this short sentence, a whole range of ideas spring to mind. We are always being observed. You have to act a certain way. In life, you have to pretend to be someone else.

To you and me this metaphor may mean something different to Shakespeare when he wrote it. However, as soon as we read it, we make the assumptions about life that are important to us. Metaphors are  completely personal, and to ask someone to explain the finer details of their metaphor would require a very long, detailed conversation. However, if you continue to use the metaphor, you can bypass the requirement to understand everything completely.

In NLP, we call this idea ‘Content Free’. Content free means that you do not need to know what is going on behind the metaphor, and instead you play with the words that your prospect is giving you.

The reason we use metaphors is because it is difficult to answer the question ‘who are you?’ in a way that encompasses the entirety of an individual. For example, your prospect may respond with their name, their job title or their relationship status, all of which only describe one particular element of their identity. By using a metaphor, we allow our prospect to describe themselves in a way that encompasses all aspects of their personality.

For example, if I was to ask you ‘what kind of salesperson are you?’, how would you respond? It might be difficult to answer this question. However, if I asked you to describe your current sales performance as a car, a sports team, a fashion designer, a band, a piece of food, a season or a world event, you will probably be able to give me an answer. If I asked you a follow up question of ‘what kind of salesperson would you like to be?’ then the chances are you will continue that same metaphor and give me an associated response.

This is how we are going to ask the identity level questions in the neurological levels model.


When you use the neurological levels model, your goal is to start at the bottom and work your way to the top in the current situation, move to the desired situation and then work your way down the model from identity down to the behaviours you want your prospect to take. Let’s explore these questions below.


 1. Environment & Results
> Question – What results are you currently getting?
Here your prospect will tell you all of the ways their current activity is impacting their situation. As a sales person, get them to describe to you all of the effects that are unsatisfactory and get them to associate to the current situation which is not serving them.

2. Behaviour
> Question – How are you spending your time right now?
Your goal is to highlight the ineffectiveness of your prospect’s current activity. As soon as they tell you out loud that they are using their time ineffectively, you will find they instantly create the desire to change their behaviour. Avoid the urge to sell at this point and continue through the neurological levels model.

3. Skills & Capabilities
> Question – How did you learn how to do this?
You will likely get a response about your prospect’s history, how they ended up in their current role and how they came to take responsibility of the area you are questioning them on. You can potentially highlight some gaps in knowledge and skills that will be required to be successful in the areas they want to develop.

4. Beliefs & Values
> Question – What is driving your activity at this point?
Expect responses that are outside of your prospect’s control or influence, or modal operators of necessity. Take note of the limiting beliefs and values conflicts that exit within your prospect as you will want to use these later in your sales meeting.

5. Identity
> Question – How would you describe your current level of performance? If you were to describe it as a XYZ, what would it be? (XYZ is your chosen metaphor based on your prospect’s interests.)
This question will take time to answer. Avoid the need to fill the silence and instead wait patiently for your prospect’s response. You will notice your prospect accessing all areas of the eye accessing cues before looking at you and responding. (If you are on the telephone, be patient!)

You now fully understand the challenges that your prospect is facing and have created an element of desire to change. DO NOT pitch at this point. Instead, trust in the process and come down through the neurological levels in the desired situation.


 1. Identity
> Question – How do you describe the level you want to play at?
Because you asked the questions back to back, the chances are your prospect will respond with an answer that is consistent with their metaphor. If their initial response was a takeaway meal, they will likely respond with a more extravagant meal. If they initially used a lower . . . class car, the desired response will involve a more exclusive car. You do not need to know the full meaning behind the metaphor, but your prospect will. Use the idea of ‘content free’ to continue your questions and get your prospect to associate to this response.

2. Beliefs & Values
> Question – What is important to you now? What do you believe about your situation now?
Notice the use of present, associative language. This will help create the emotional drive that will help close the sale. Because there will be multiple different possible responses, you may need to ask a follow up question to direct your prospect in the way you want them to think. This is the time for you to align their desired situation’s values and beliefs with that of your product or service. If you are selling a time management tool, perhaps you ask the question ‘how important to you is getting the most out of every day now?’ Because your prospect will be in a light trance, you can be a little more direct with your suggestive questions, although overdoing it will bring them out of trance immediately.

3. Skills & Capabilities
> Question – What do you need to be good at now? How did you develop that skill?
Without the required skills, all the will and motivation in the world will be wasted. Ensure that your prospect knows HOW to close the gap between where they are and where they want to be. If you are selling training, this is a great time to explore the impact your product could potentially deliver. If you are a recruitment consultant, perhaps you ask about the skills and capabilities they have access to through the presence of other team members.

4. Behaviour
> Question – How do you spend your time differently now?
True values are reflected in how people allocate their resources, especially time. By asking WHAT is done differently, you are checking that the identity and values shift has filtered down through to the behaviour level. By exploring this level, you are bringing the more subtle changes in mindset into reality which makes the whole shift tangible rather than purely hypothetical.

5. Environment & Results
> Question – What do you notice in your environment/results now?
Change is all about seeing a different end result. This question should allow your prospect to see the true impact of the changes you are helping them to make. Make sure you ask follow up questions about the impact of your product on their results. For example, if you are selling print services, ask about how their clients respond to them when they see their promotional materials. If you are selling nutritional supplements, ask about how they look in the mirror or the compliments they get from friends or strangers.

The final step of the process is to bring your prospect back to their present state. This step helps to create an air of positive tension. You have just had your prospect associated to their goals and dreams, and made them believe that it is completely possible. Now, back in the present moment, they do not have any of those things, but they want them, and because you just showed them what was possible, they want to start on the journey of getting back to that desirable place. The feeling is akin to attaching an elastic band to them in their desired situation and then pulling them back to their current situation. Can you imagine what that tension would be like?

By asking this series of questions, you get a full understanding of your prospect’s current situation as well as where they want to get to. You uncover the shortfalls in each of the neurological levels, and identify other angles to help your prospect succeed in make the change you are proposing to them. If you do this well, you will create a massive sense of motivation and urge to get started immediately. However, and possibly of greatest importance, you will have helped to create a lasting change, a change that permeates throughout that individual or organisation. This kind of holistic change impacts your prospect for the long-term, rather than just applying a sticky plaster as a temporary solution. This level of service will get your customers raving about you!

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