The Questions We Are Afraid To Ask


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I wrote, If You Were In Your Customer’s Shoes, What Would You Do?  Gary Hart offered a thoughtful comment that got me really thinking (as his comments so often do).

Gary posed the idea, in our very first meetings with a customer, we should always be asking the customer, “What prompted you to have a meeting with me?”   I couldn’t agree more, this or perhaps some variants:

  • What is it about our products and services prompted you to get in touch with us?
  • Why are you interested in speaking with us?
  • Why would you consider replacing your current solutions with a new one like ours?

These are all important questions, but sales people seldom ask them.  The answers to these questions give us tremendous insight and understanding about the customer, what they are trying to achieve, and their opinions and attitudes toward us.  The answers to these questions give us the first clues about what’s really going on with them.

But sales people don’t tend to ask them.  I think there are a couple of reasons:

First, we may have “forced” ourselves on the customer.  They may not really be interested in doing anything, but either through persistence, fast talking, or some other reason, they’ve decided to meet with us.  Perhaps we wore them down, perhaps they were just curious.  But they may not really be interested in our products and services, they may be more interested in just getting us off their backs.  But we never discover this, because in the meeting, we are typically doing all the talking, continuing to pitch our products.

Second, and more often, I think we’re afraid of the response the customer might give to these questions.  We’ve invested so much time and energy to try to get a meeting with the customer, that when we finally do get the customer to see us, we don’t want to risk losing the opportunity.  As a result, we never ask key questions–mostly because we’re afraid of the response.  We may find that upon reflection, they really aren’t interested, or they don’t see a fit, or they’ve changed their minds.  We may find, we don’t have a real opportunity.

Instead of asking this question, we avoid it.  We talk about their needs, we may try to teach them and give them insights.  We dance around asking the toughest, most pointed questions.  The responses to these questions could immediately cause us or the customer to disqualify each other, or blast things wide open–enabling us to discover things we might never have discovered in our normal questioning, or that may have taken us days or weeks to discover.

Instead of asking the most difficult questions, up front, we delay–investing time and resource into something that might not be real.  Or we never ask them, we’re so grateful to be engaged with a customer that we don’t want to do anything that may jeopardize this–even though the possibility of their buying is very low.

Bad news is bad news–but it’s worst, after we’ve invested a lot of time and resource on something we can’t successfully close.  It’s far better to discover this up front, allowing us to politely disengage, investing our time prospecting or with customers that have real reason or interest in working with us.

What questions are you afraid to ask?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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