The One Open Question You Should Never Ask

Open questions are always a good thing for your sales…except this one!

23rd August 2016Leigh Ashton
open question

Knowing how to ask good questions (and then shut up long enough to hear the answer) is one of the most important sales skills you can develop. And generally speaking, any open question can be good during a sales conversation … except one.


Never ask “why”!

You should avoid asking “why” questions at all costs. They come across as too personal, and they make people feel defensive, which is certainly not what you want during a sales call. Not to mention that they can totally break whatever rapport you’ve built up with that person before, which can seriously set your relationship back.

Think about it this way: if you’re asking someone why they did something, didn’t do something, think something, feel something, or want something, what you’re really asking for is a justification for something, which naturally elicits a defence…which kind of defeats the whole purpose of asking questions to begin with. You don’t want justification, you want information about their preferred criteria and processes.


Ask “what” instead

Any time you feel like you need to ask a “why” question, stop and rephrase it as a “what” question or a “how” question. This way, you can avoid the defensiveness and negativity that generally goes along with “why” questions and get some good answers about their criteria (which you’ll get from “what” questions) and their preferred processes (which you’ll get from “how” questions).


Plan ahead to avoid accidental “why”s

While you can certainly modify your questions on the fly, it’s better to plan ahead so you don’t accidentally let one slip. Before your sales call, identify the information that you need from the potential customer, and look specifically for “why” question.

For instance, if you want to know why your potential customer chose to try out another supplier before you, you’ll need to rephrase to avoid putting them on the spot.

So instead of “Why….”, ask the question like this: “What was it about the other supplier that made them a better fit for you?” or “How did you come to the decision to choose the other supplier before?”

Either one of these phrasings will make the other person much more comfortable and much more willing to answer you.

So remember: if you’re trying to find out information about the criteria a person has for a project or pitch, then ask questions that start with “what”. If you’re trying to find out their preferences when it comes to processes and steps, then ask questions that begin with “how”. And if you’re trying to lose the sale, ask questions that begin with “why”!


Until next time,

Leigh xx

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