The Art Of Asking A Question

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Most salespeople are really lousy at asking questions, and so they fall prey to the old adage, "Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer."

Making sales decisions based on stupid answers to your stupid questions is stupid to the tenth power. Stupid to the tenth power usually results in:

No Sale.

Not today, not yesterday, not tomorrow.

Many years back I was working with a guy who sold chemicals. I should probably rephrase that. What he really did was convince people never to buy his companies products, which was a shame, because they were actually good products, available at a very reasonable price.

I remember walking into a large hotel with him, and he spent at least ten minutes trying to decide what to show the purchasing agent. He decided on a degreaser, which really isn't a product you can demonstrate in an office, at least without some risk.

His opening question was, "What kind of degreaser y'all use here?"

If he had been even somewhat observant, he would have known the answer to his question. There was degreaser on several of the hotel cleaning carts we passed on the way to the purchasers office.

The purchasers answer was, "Same one we've always used." Now there was some information you could use.

My guy followed that up with, "How long is that?"

"Ever since I been here," said the purchaser.

"So it works okay, does it?" says my guy.

"I don't know," says the purchaser, "I don't do no scrubbin."

"Huh," says my guy. "Well...okey dokey."

And off we went.

I spent an entire day with him, and he didn't sell anything.

Finally I couldn't stand it anymore, and told him I would handle his last two calls. He didn't object.

We walked into a diner, and the place smelled like it had just been fumigated. In fact, my eyes were watering. I found the owner, and said, "Do you have a problem with flies?"

"Yes," he said. "Do you think your customers will appreciate the smell of whatever you are using?"

"I can't stand it myself," he said.

"If I could show you a product that kill flies...and smells like cherries, would you buy it?"

"Hell yes," he said.

I pulled the fly killer out and sprayed it in a corner. He walked over and smelled it.

"Damn," he said, "that smells good."

"I'm running a special on that this week," I said. "1 case is $79.99. 5 cases is $64.99. You buy 5, you save $75.00, you kill flies, and your place smells like cherries."

"Send it in," he says.

At the last call, another hotel, I sold over $2000.00 of cleaning products, and made the schmuck I was with over $500.00
dollars, all by asking the right questions.

I started by asking if I could show them how to cut the cost of their cleaning products in half, would they buy from me today?

I showed them a very simple way to insure that employees followed the dilution ratios on the box, and they were hooked.
Dilution ratios are on every box of chemicals, no matter who sells them. But simple systems for usage are not.

So it's all in how you ask.

The better the question, the more control you have.

The more control you have, the better chance you have of selling.

Jim Whelan is The chairman of Board and owner of The James R Whelan Agency - The Most Powerful Name in Advertising. Please sign up for his daily free newsletter at

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