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Asking dumb questions gives prospect lower opinion of you

Rochester Business Journal
May 2, 2003
Sales truth: Salespeople become known by the questions they ask.

Knowing this truth, you'd think all salespeople would ask smart questions. You'd be thinking wrong.

It never ceases to amaze me that with all the options salespeople have, they choose to alienate, anger or cause doubt in the mind of the prospect by setting the wrong tone with their questions.

Here are the dumbest questions salespeople ask and why they're dumb:

-- Who are you currently using for ... ? Pre-call research should tell you that. And maybe the prospect feels that's none of your business. Good start.

-- Are you satisfied with your present ... ? Everyone will tell you they're satisfied. So what? Well, OK, if you're satisfied I'll just leave and quit.

-- How much are you currently paying for ... ? None of your business No. 2. Let's get down to price as fast as you can.

-- Can I quote you on ... ? Why send a quote-the next person who quotes 2 cents cheaper gets the business. What about the value?

-- Can I bid on ... ? Same as a "quote" only worse. This is a 100 percent price-driven sale. Low margin. Low profit. Low commission. Low percentage of success. How low do you want to go?

-- Tell me a little bit about your business. No. It's a waste of the prospect's time. Find out a little bit about the prospect's business, so you can go into the sales call with answers and ideas that might get the prospect excited enough to buy.

-- Are you the person who decides about ... ? Come on. This is the question that breeds the most lies. The answer is most often "yes," and the answer most often is false. Why ask a question that breeds misleading information? The correct question to ask is: "How will the decision be made?"

-- If I could save you some money, would you ... ? Give me a break. Every salesperson and his dog thinks that the customer will jump at the hint of saving money. This tactic actually has a negative effect on the buyer and makes the salesperson work twice as hard to prove himself and usually at a lower price (and lower commission).

And the worst question of them all:

-- What would it take to get (earn) your business? This question is saying to the prospect: "Look, I don't have much time here. Could you just tell me the quickest way to get this order and make me do the least amount of work possible to get it."

Dumb words: Let's add a bunch of negative words that prospects hate or that get their guard up-"today," "frankly," "honestly," "if I were you" or anything negative about the previous choice they made or anything negative about your competition.

Now, before you get all hostile on me, I'm not saying don't get this information. I am saying there are smarter, better ways of getting this information that will lead you to a sale. The questions above make the prospect have a lower opinion of you, and that will lead to nothing but price wars and frustration.

These are all "price-driven questions." In other words, they are the kind of questions where the sale boils down to the price. And if you want the sale real bad, simple, just lower your price to where you make little or no profit. Duh.

The secret of good (smart) questions are those that make the prospect stop and think, and answer in terms of you. If you ask people questions that you could have found out the answer by some means as simple as looking up the information on their Web site, how intelligent or hard working does that make you look? Not very.

Note: You do have the luxury of asking a weak question about their stuff, if you preface it with the statement, "I was looking at your Web site last night and I got a couple of ideas I'd like to talk to you about, but there were a few things I'd like to understand a little better about the way you serve your customer." Now you can ask anything and still look smart.

If you walk in with an idea that you got from reading the annual report, the trade magazine or reading the company Web info, you will earn the respect of the person making the buying decision. You will also be viewed as credible. Respect and credibility lead to trust. Trust leads to sale. Think about that the next time you're formulating a question.

GitBit: Want a few real smart questions? Well, since everyone sells something different, I'll give you the lead-ins to the questions, and you adapt it to whatever you sell. Fair enough? Go to, register if you're a first-time user, then enter the words "smart questions" in the GitBit box.

(Jeffrey Gitomer, author of "The Sales Bible" and "Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless" and president of Charlotte, N.C.-based BuyGitomer Inc., gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings and conducts training programs on selling and customer service. He can be reached at (704) 333-1112 or his e-mail address,

05/02/03 (C) Rochester Business Journal

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