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If you don’t ask …

If you don’t ask …You don’t get; won’t get but more importantly in business if your business connections don’t know what you want, you can’t possibly get.

Open_versus_closed_questionsRudyard Kipling oft quoted poem goes:

“I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew);  Their names are What and Why and When; And How and Where and Who”.


However, you don’t often hear the second half of that verse.

“I send them over land and sea, I send them east and west;  But after they have worked for me, I give them all a rest.”

That’s what I want to explore in this post.  Give open questions a rest.Don’t get me wrong; open questions; they are really important.  They are essential preparatory questions – you know, the ones that ensure you have done your research. So you know that you are talking to the right person with the problem, the budget and the authority to buy the solution you provide.  But it is not these I wish to focus on. Instead I’d want to consider the importance of direct and leading questions and their application that will get you a ‘willing’ yes.

A direct question usually begins with a verb and ensures either a yes or a no answer.  These are great questions when you are short of time, when you know where you are heading and when an additional open question just seems a bit too much like fluff!

Time is precious, and more so in the modern world. Thus some strategy to conserve time by eliminating unnecessary discussion is relatively sensible.

A friend of mine had a really important meeting coming up with a client whose budget was worth millions.  It was important to ensure the best impression so he went to the restaurant he was going to book a table at.  His asked two key questions: the first – would you show me the kitchens? His second – would you show me the toilets?

Not only did these two simple questions ensure that the restaurant was suitably clean, it also ensured the staff knew this customer needed to be looked after attentively during the meal (and by default, the course of his important meeting)

Direct questions are also useful to get to the root of a problem.  When something is causing a problem, direct questions can help you rule out the erroneous matters.  Your doctor will spend more time asking you direct questions to diagnose your ailments.

When used effectively they can help you persuade someone of the truth.  This involves getting the person to go step by step through a process of reasoning and deduction so that the outcome enlightens the person to the benefits.

Socrates was brilliant at this:  This ancient philosopher asked a continuance of questions that people had to agree with.  He kept on asking until eventually they figured out for themselves something they might have previously disagreed with.

If you are in business and I have to assume that most if not all of you are, it is in your interest to disqualify the dead end leads as quickly and as cheaply as possible.  Direct questions can help you do this especially if you use them in your initial marketing copy.

Not that I am expecting you to go up to someone you don’t know and ask  “do you want to buy this Audi TT – yes or no?”  Or  “I sell coaching services; wanna book a session on Thursday 2 pm?”

But once you are in the face to face meeting then you want to find out if it is a no as quickly as possible.   Nine months into the sales cycle; after four meetings, two demonstrations, one proposal, and at least one revision is just too much time wasted?

Sure you may lose out on the odd one or two deals by being direct; but then again you may have missed out on other opportunities whilst you were tied up in the fruitless four meetings, two demonstrations, one proposal etc etc.

This probably goes against those sales people who think that the customer is king.  That thought puts the sales person into a passive position.  The buyer is now totally in control.  When the customer is king the sales person is reliant on the customer determining the pace of the sales process.

I am not advocating a hard sell.  This sales person uses aggressive techniques that don’t have the buyer’s interest in mind.  I’m not suggesting that. The assertive sales person will find a way that allows the buyer to feel they are both in control.  This Sales person will use direct questions like: Can we agree some rules of engagement, things like: we won’t mess each other around, lie or steal each other’s time and/or best ideas?

Some find it easier than others! Sources and further reading material:

How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

Selling is the Easiest Job in the World – Marcus Cauchi from the compilation entitled Business Wise.

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