Life isn’t a trivia contest. We’re not in an elementary school classroom anymore, regurgitating facts back to the teacher to prove what we’ve learned. And, for sales professionals, absolutes are rare – the gray area between the black and white is vast.
So why do we struggle when asked questions? Why do questions trigger a feeling of defensiveness? What is it about being asked a question that causes a little ripple of panic?
There are two reasons. The first is that, yes, some people do use questions as weapons. Their intention of asking is to nail you, to make you feel bad or to force you to declare a position.
The second reason is that we presume others are using questions as weapons. Our defensiveness in these cases is unwarranted. Our defensive responses to questions that are meant neutrally is off-putting to others.
Sellers get questions from managers, support department colleagues and customers. Any one of these relationships can, at times, be stressful. After all, sellers are responsible for meeting the expectations of many other people at all times.
In those stressful times, it may feel as if the other party is asking a question with an ulterior motive. You may even be right. But, on the other hand, you could be wrong. You could be interpreting a question founded in good intent as one with ill intent.
In field observations with professional sellers, I see more of the latter then the former. Most questions are asked out of curiosity or a simple need to get information. A seller who assumes the question is loaded inevitably responds with too much information, too much explanation, or too much justification.
Defensive answers to neutral questions cause the person asking to become suspicious. For example, when a buyer asks “how much is it?” many sellers assume this question is a lead-in to a price objection.
More often than not, the buyer just wants to know the price. So the seller who becomes overly defensive about the price or, worse yet, the one who begins to immediately reduce the price, plants seeds of doubt in the buyers mind.
To become a good question answerer, try to do the following:
- Listen to the question asked. Do not add to it or assume there is a hidden agenda behind it.
- Keep your answer narrow. Don’t justify or explain unless asked to do so.
- Give the person asking the question the opportunity to hear what they asked for. Don’t insult the person asking the question by going off on some tangent you imagine they were really after. If that’s what they want, give them the opportunity to ask for it.
- Assume all questions are neutral. That way you will keep your answers neutral, too.
- If you truly believe there is something behind the question that you need to address, first give the neutral answer. Then ask “did that help?” or some other question that invites a follow up.
When you follow these tips as you answer questions, you will find that your conversations flow more naturally. Others will feel that you’ve done a good job listening to them. And you won’t derail sales accidentally.