There are a number of important questions that every salesperson must ask.  Some of these questions involve gaining a commitment to change, the clarification of objections, earning the client’s trust, or even creating urgency.  Some questions involve a final commitment to actually making a commitment.  But there’s one other question that comes very early in the conversation, and it can lead to either a great talk or a waste of time.


The question I’m referring to involves the confirmation that you are actually speaking to the right person.  Often, this question is asked in a closed and flawed manner.  Let me provide you with an example:  You are meeting with a new client for the first time, and early on in the conversation, you need to make sure you are talking with the right person. You ask this question:


“Will you be the person who is in charge of making this purchase decision?”


It doesn’t get much easier than that, does it?  You asked in a simple, straightforward, and yet, terribly flawed way.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by sales people:  “I ask my prospects if they are the decision makers, they tell me they are, and then, later in the process, I realize they aren’t!  I can’t do more than ask!”  In fact, it’s a case of asking almost the right question.


When I was 21 years old and in my first week working for New York Life, I remember a day when the Canon copier rep came in to try to sell us new office copiers.  I could not have been lower on the totem pole in the company, but I was the one asked to meet with this sales rep to hear his or her pitch.  I was fully prepared to spend as little time with him or her as possible, when there was a knock at my door, and in walked one of the most attractive women I had ever seen.  In that I was young, single, and human, I remember being asked almost the right question:


“Will you be the person who is charge of making this purchase decision?”


With a slight crack in my voice, my libido / ego forced me to answer her question in a proud but dishonest way:  “Yes, I am,” and therein lies the problem with asking almost the right question.  When you ask people if they are the ones in charge of making the decisions, you force them to be dishonest.  Imagine if I had given the real answer to her question: “No, I’m not the person in charge of making this or any decisions here at this office.  As a matter of fact, I’m pretty much the low man on the totem pole here.  Hey, would you like to go out and catch a movie sometime?”


So now that we’ve taken a look at asking almost the right question, let’s move a few words around and make it the right question.  If you want to find out who is in charge of making a purchase decision, why not ask the question this way:


“Who, besides yourself, will be responsible for making this purchase decision?”


It’s just a word or two, but by changing the question in this way, you are allowing the people involved to provide an honest answer without embarrassing themselves or overstating their real positions.  Such a simple concept, yet a great example of how the wording of a question can be the key to getting the correct answer.  I think Mark Twain said it best:


“The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”


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