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3 Types of Questions You Should Avoid Asking in Sales

By Deb Calvert (1157 words)
Posted in Sales & Business Development on October 10, 2014

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After conducting research with sellers and buyers for over 20 years, I’ve concluded that there are five kinds of questions sellers should avoid.  

 

1. Avoid Asking “If I Could…” Questions

 

This is an obvious set-up. The seller asks a question to fabricate a conditional commitment. Then the seller proceeds to deliver on the condition he or she set up with an expectation the buyer will proceed. 

 

When nearing a close or in response to a sales objection, this can be effective. But sellers should avoid slipping into this technique earlier in the sales process when their intent should be to understand buyer needs. These questions do not reveal needs. They only reveal buyer responses to if/then scenarios.

 

There is a risk a buyer will feel manipulated when this technique is used. Sellers should proceed with caution if they choose this phrasing. It is commonly used and is, therefore, familiar to buyers. Additionally, it feels like a trap and may cause buyers to put up their defenses. Sellers should evaluate their intent before using this technique, and they may wish to use a straightforward statement in these situations rather than setting up an if/then condition. 

 

Examples of “If I Could…” questions include:

 

  • If I could save you time, you’d be interested, right?

  • What if I could show you how to get out of that contract?

  • If I could match the price would you buy from me?

 

In some cases, a straightforward statement will serve the seller better. Rather than asking a hypothetical “If I Could” question, a seller could say “I believe I can match the price and eliminate your concern about moving forward.” This conveys the seller’s intention and more efficiently moves the sale forward. 

 

An assumptive statement like this is, in essence, what the seller who asks an “If I Could” question is telling the buyer. The subtle difference is there is no pretense of a condition and no perceived attempt to back the buyer into a corner. 

 

One buyer said it this way “If you can, just say so.” 

 

 

2. Avoid Asking Shame Questions

 

Questions meant to shame or embarrass the buyer into buying are strong-arm tactics that make the seller look like a schoolyard bully. In the age of empowered buyers, this tactic is outdated and unprofessional.

 

The intention of these questions is to force the buyer to make a purchase out of a sense of shame or embarrassment. Even if this works to close a sale, the relationship between buyer and seller will be strained. What’s more, the seller’s brand and the company’s reputation could be compromised. When buyer’s remorse sets in, look for high rates of cancelled orders, dissatisfied customers and negative word-of-mouth reviews. 

 

A seller who conducts a thorough needs assessment, understands the buyer’s need, and offers a solution that meets the stated need does not need to use this tactic. As the sale advances to a close, the seller who “goes in for the kill” risks undoing all that good work. 

 

Examples of Shame Questions include:

 

  • Oh, so you can’t actually afford to buy this?

  • Are you saying you don’t have the power to make this decision on your own? 

  • If you weren’t serious about this, why did you take this meeting?

 

These questions are often followed by a strong statement like “My time is valuable, too” or “I guess I was wrong about you.” These digs are apparently meant to intensify the guilt the buyer is supposed to feel for not buying on the seller’s timeline.

 

3. Avoid Asking Trite and Overused Questions

 

To the buyer, these questions seem manipulative because they’ve heard them so often. The questions themselves are not necessarily meant to manipulate or lead a buyer. But they’ve been repeatedly asked in an insincere manner, and buyers assume sellers are not really interested in their replies. 

 

Oftentimes, sellers who ask these questions don’t know where to go next. That’s a big part of the problem. When you ask how someone is doing, get a reply (sometimes including personal information), and then launch into a sales pitch, it seems like you don’t really care what was shared. It’s better to avoid asking a question if you don’t intend to respond to what you hear. 

 

Trite and overused questions set the bar low for both the seller and the buyer. Disingenuous opening questions set the tone for the rest of the meeting. A seller who starts with a low value throwaway question has to work harder to re-engage the buyer with the next question. The time wasted on the meaningless questions plus the recovery time to re-engage the buyer could have been better spent.

 

Examples of Trite and Overused Questions include:

 

  • How’s everything going?

  • What keeps you up at night?

  • What will it take to get your business today?

 

Sellers who want to create value and differentiate themselves will recognize that hackneyed questions have no place in their conversations with buyers. The object is to engage buyers with a natural conversational flow. These questions aren’t engaging because they’re not natural.

 

If you’d like to learn more about questions to avoid and how to replace them by asking purposeful questions that advance the sale, be sure to pick up a copy of DISCOVER Questions™ Get You Connected. Quality questions can make the difference between stalling out and advancing the sale.   

 

 

{#/pub/images/DebCalvertNew.jpg}Written by Deb Calvert, President, People First Productivity Solutions-Author of the DISCOVER Questions book series, Deb has worked as a sales productivity specialist and sales researcher since 2000. She is certified as a Master Sales Coach, Master Trainer, and host of CONNECT! an online radio show for selling professionals where listeners ignite their selling power in just an hour. Deb helps companies to boost productivity through people development. This work includes leadership program design and facilitation, strategic planning with executive teams, team effectiveness work, and performance management program design. 

 

Do you have a sales question for Deb?  Please visit our Sales Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert

 

Did you find this article informative?  Let us keep you up-to-date on all of our training articles. Please sign up for our newsletter today!  

 

Here are some related articles you may be interested in: 

 

Three New Approaches to Making Effective Sales Calls

4 Essential Skills for Leaders, Managers & High Potentials

You Only Get One Chance to Make a First Impression

Managing Customer Expectations

Marketing 101 With A Twist…Making It Effective

  

 

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Comments (1)

christian diot posted on: April 16, 2019

great article as a coach this kind of material inspires me when it comes to coaching my clients in France.
Keep upthe good work.

TNX

BR

Christian Diot

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