5 Types of Questions Salespeople Should Avoid at All Costs

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Aja Frost
Aja Frost




Salespeople are trained to talk less and ask more questions. But not all questions are worth asking. At best, a thoughtless question wastes everyone’s time. At worst, asking the wrong thing can derail an entire conversation and even damage a rep’s relationship with their prospect.

Don’t let a poorly-chosen inquiry sabotage your deal. These five types of questions should be avoided at all costs.

1) Rhetorical Questions

A good question helps the rep better understand their prospect -- not reinforce information both parties already know. Leading questions like “Could saving money help your business?” or “Would you agree hiring the right people is important?” are a waste of time. Worse, they make salespeople seem patronizing and manipulative.

To avoid these types of questions, reps should ask themselves, “Will the response tell me something new?” If the answer is no, they should look for a different way to make their point.

For instance, rather than asking a buyer if she’d like to save money, the salesperson might ask this series of questions:

  • What are your goals for X?
  • What will happen if you don’t meet those goals?
  • What are you currently doing to meet those goals?
  • How do you currently handle X?
  • How much do you spend on that current process?

With this information, the rep can explain how much money the buyer will save with a new way of doing things and how that money will help her achieve her goals. Presenting a personalized, informed argument is always more persuasive than asking a question with an obvious answer.

2) “Salesy” Questions That Prospects Know By Heart

Generic, overused questions make prospects go on autopilot. Rather than assessing their situation, explaining their ideas, or examining things in a new light, buyers simply regurgitate answers they’ve already given to salespeople in the past.

Not only will reps miss out on the opportunity to learn new information or make their prospects think, they’ll also make it harder to win their prospects’ trust. Buyers will automatically associate the salesperson they’re currently speaking to with every other salesperson who’s asked them the same question. That usually doesn’t play in the rep’s favor.

Here are some cliche questions to steer clear of:

  • What keeps you up at night?
  • What do you know about our company?
  • If I could wave a magic wand, what issue would you want fixed?
  • What will it take to get your business?

3) Questions Meant to Evoke Embarrassment Or Guilt

Salespeople should never demean their prospects to motivate them to take action. Although this sleazy tactic may have worked in the past, the modern buyer won’t put up with it. He’ll decide to take his business to a rep who doesn’t shame or guilt him -- and he’ll probably also tell his friends and coworkers about his negative experience. Ultimately, salespeople who criticize their prospects are shooting themselves in the foot.

Steer clear of guilt-tripping questions like these:

  • If you’re not serious about purchasing X, then why did you waste my time?
  • Why haven’t I heard back from you?
  • You didn’t show up to our meeting -- why not?
  • Do you realize doing X is essential to your business?
  • How can you justify not doing X?
  • You don’t have the power to make this decision on your own?
  • You can’t afford to purchase X?

4) “Hypothetical” Questions

Prospects hate getting hypothetical questions like,“If I could do X, would you be interested in doing Y?”

For instance, a rep might ask, “If I could give you a 20% discount, would you buy today?”

These questions force prospects into making decisions on the spot, which they’re probably not ready to do. They also feel forced and inauthentic: If the salesperson couldn’t do whatever he was proposing, he probably wouldn’t offer.

Reps should make straightforward statements instead of presenting hypothetical questions. For example, the salesperson could say, “I can offer you a 20% discount, but only if we’re able to wrap up the deal within [time period].” Then their prospects have that information without feeling pressured to make a decision in the moment.

5) Questions That Reveal a Lack of Research

Reps shouldn’t waste valuable time with their prospects getting details they could’ve easily learned through independent research. Buyers will be understandably frustrated by answering basic questions about their company -- and sellers will have fewer opportunities to ask questions that can’t be answered in five minutes online.

Here are some questions that typically fall into this category:

  • Can you tell me a little bit about your business?What do you do?
  • What products do you sell
  • How long has your company been around?
  • Where are you located?
  • Who are your competitors?

With these questions eliminated from their repertoire, salespeople can maximize their time with prospects

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