Back in medieval times when I was in college, there was always some smart aleck who’d raise his hand and offer up a long-winded, obnoxious “question” designed to showcase his own intelligence: “Isn’t it true, Dr. Brilliant, that the macroeconomic theories we’re discussing here are really a reification of a dualistic world view grounded in ancient Zoroastrian systems of belief?”

I used to console myself that once I graduated I wouldn’t have to listen to Aleck anymore. Little did I know that he’d end up in sales.

A smart-aleck sales question isn’t really a question at all. It’s a setup:

  • “If I could give you a better solution at a lower price, would you be interested?”
  • “What’s a good time for us to meet?”
  • “Do you like the red one or the green one?”

Usually, questions like these are just designed to push the conversation where the seller wants it to go: “Well, lucky for you we still have a green one in stock. Would you prefer Tuesday or Thursday delivery?”

Good sales questions, by contrast, are the opposite of smart-alecky. They’re humble. The salesperson truly wants to learn something about the prospect, not push his or her agenda. “Can you help me understand what the new regulations mean to your operations?” Questions that display true curiosity are always welcome, whether you’re sitting in Dr. Brilliant’s classroom or across the desk from a prospect.

Before your next sales call, stop and reflect on the kinds of sales questions you want to ask – and why you want to ask them.

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