One essential ingredient in a winning sales call is your ability to field tough questions a skeptical prospect will ask. How you respond makes a huge difference.

Trouble is, far too many salespeople spend their prep time thinking and rehearsing what they plan to say on a call – and not enough time getting ready for questions a prospect is likely to ask.

Here are six response strategies that can set you apart:

1. Seek clarity. Whether the question is about a specific feature, a broader topic, or what you think about an issue, take time to understand it before answering. “Let me make sure I understand what you mean….” is one alternative. Another is to simply ask the prospect for clarification. In either case, don’t rush to respond.

2. Demonstrate your expertise. You should come to the table with a deep understanding of the prospect’s industry, your company and its offerings, and what the competition has to offer. Reinforce your credibility by framing your answers around statements like, “Based on my experience…..”

3. Get everyone on the same page. These days, many sales calls involve multiple people. So take a moment to weave missing background into your answer, so that everyone is up to speed on the subject matter. It is especially hazardous to assume that everyone knows your buzz words.

4. Refocus on the buyer, not the product. “What’s the mean time between failures on this product?” a skeptical buyer asks. Go ahead and answer – and then use the question as a springboard to talk about the buyer. You might respond something like this: “Our tests show it’s 48.5 months, much better than industry standard. Tell me why you ask; have you had issues with reliability in the past?

5.Reframe unfair or off-point questions. Don’t allow yourself to get flummoxed by a prospect who asks inappropriate or inane questions. A good strategy is to redirect with a statement like, “The real question to ask is ….”

6. Use metaphors, stories or analogies. Illustrate key points with examples people can identify with or relate to. Structure your answer around stories about customers who solved problems with your solutions. Storytelling is far more effective than a laundry list of facts or figures presented as if in rebuttal.

Cool, calm, collected
Key point: Your demeanor during questioning says a lot. So resist the temptation to become emotional or defensive. Remain confident and positive. Your style and delivery need to be cool, calm, and collected.

For best results, build momentum as you respond, so that you finish on a strong note. You want this “build up” to peak during the final sentence of your response. If your voice trails off, that will signal lack of conviction or uncertainty.

What’s behind the question?

There’s always a motive behind tough questions. Prospects may want to throw you a curve to see how you respond. They may be trying to avoid a mistake they’ve made in the past. Or they may think you’re trying to hide something.

That’s why you shouldn’t be too quick to answer. Give yourself time to respond thoughtfully and try to understand their underlying motivation.

Source: Adapted from an article in Harvard Business Review by Steve Martin. To learn more visit

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