Dictionary.com defines "off-the-wall" as, "Markedly unconventional; bizarre; oddball." When I think of the term, I think of racquetball. In racquetball, you and your opponent are side by side, hitting the ball in the same direction. Since you can bounce the ball off the ceiling, sidewalls, and back wall, it may come at you from any direction, making it difficult to maintain your balance.
These off-the-wall moments can help you win the game in sales. This article will share some of my proven off-the-wall questions, the context to use them in, and the desired outcome(s).
Benefits of Asking Off-the-Wall Questions
Off-the-wall questions are the fastest way to "trusted-advisor" status.
Think about this: There’s someone in your life right now who can tell you that you have bad breath or can’t wear your paisley jacket with your plaid pants. You may also have a CPA who you pay to tell you how to stay out of trouble with the IRS, a doctor who tells you that you need to diet and exercise if you want to live, or a financial adviser who tells you when to sell and when to buy.
These are all people who you trust to keep you out of trouble by speaking up when they see that you’re about to do something that’s not in your best interests.
When you ask your prospect an off-the-wall question, they will be surprised. They may even become angry or upset. This is what you want.
It gives you the opportunity to say:
"Did I just cross a line?"
"Are you upset with me now?"
"Uh-oh. This isn’t going well."
Whether or not they agree, we now get to say:
"Please. I didn't mean to cross the line (or upset you or make you angry). If we continue to talk, you'll figure out that I’m not a slick salesman and I really love what I do. I'm passionate about it, good at it, and my clients learn to trust my advice. So, if I see it, I typically say it and we don’t waste time. I apologize. We don’t know each other well enough and I went too fast. Should we not talk anymore?"
You are in a win-win situation. If they don't want to talk anymore, you thank them and move on, realizing that your prospect doesn’t like hearing the truth even when they need to. The fact that you weren’t yet a trusted advisor is not important.
What is important is to recognize that if you worked with this person, you would always have to be careful about what you say, how you say it, and what kind of mood your client was in -- not that you shouldn’t be all that stuff, but you don’t want it to be the number-one controlling factor in every interaction.
If your prospect agrees to continue, you have taken a huge step toward achieving trusted-advisor status. It's kind of like the judge telling the jury to disregard something. They heard it! You can't un-ring a bell. It may not be on the record, but it's been heard.
Here are some example scenarios with off-the-wall questions.
Example Off-the-Wall Questions
Imagine that you're talking to a business owner who says that he's losing ground to the competition. All of his costs are going up. It's tough to make a profit. He's contacted you to see if you can help him grow his business, so you ask off-the-wall questions like:
“Are you ready to retire?”
“Have you thought about getting a job?”
“Have you thought about quitting?”
“Have you thought about shutting down?”
We're not telling him to get a job or quit. We're simply asking. He could say that it's a stupid question, but if he's really frustrated, he may reply with, "I did, but I don't want to."
And right there, I'm ahead of my competition because the competition probably started offering proposals for solutions with price tags, whereas I'm making sure that I understand what he needs.
Let's try another scenario. Let's say you've come across a CEO who's a bit of a know-it-all or likes everyone to know that he's in charge. He’s probably started the conversation with something like, "Show me what you've got." or "Let's see if we can use your stuff."
Got the picture? He doesn't want to admit that he needs any help from anybody. Every time you ask a question, he dodges it or gives you a fluffy, no-meat answer. Try these off-the-wall questions in such instances:
"I've been asking questions trying to find something to talk about, but haven't found anything. Can I assume that life is perfect?"
If he claims perfection, it's okay to leave -- but he probably won't. Then say:
"Then, I don't know what to do. Usually by now, I start feeling synergy. I ask. You answer. We converse, but I'm not feeling it. Would you like me to leave?"
It's good to have a fail-safe -- something you can go to when nothing else fits.
Of course, it helps to practice ahead of time. If you'd like to practice with me, let me know and I'd be happy to work with you.
Originally published Jan 27, 2014 8:00:00 AM, updated January 21 2020