Avoid the Stupid Sales Questions

in Questioning

I get to travel all over doing my inside sales training programs for clients. And when I do, I love to get out, and take in what the city has to offer. And I’m always looking for sales ideas. Today I have a sales observation for you from the street. The street is Broadway. Times Square. New York City.

Times Square is a sales scientist’s Disneyland. Somewhat similar to the beaches in Mexico, which I’ve written about several times, Here, pretty much anything that you want can be bought, or, uh, rented, up and down Broadway…products, food, services, events, and even humans.

You have the street vendors, set up on their makeshift tables and rolling carts, the closet-sized shops, the huge international brand stores like Gap, and others, all lit up by blocks and blocks of five-story tall animated HDTV screens. 

Every day is like you see on TV on New Year’s Eve when they drop the ball, just with fewer bodies. But there still are thousands milling about at all hours. Some of those people on the sidewalks are the ones I was most interested in. You can’t step more than a few feet without someone stuffing some type of promotion in your hands: bus and boat tours, reduced-price theater tickets, adult attractions, and more.

Then they try to engage you in a conversation to sell you on their event.

One guy with a handful of coupons for a comedy club had an approach, that, at first I thought was brilliant. Then I realized it was not good at all. It caused resistance.

He would make eye contact with people, smile, and then say, “You like to watch comedy, don’t you?”

I thought, “Wow, what a great question! Everyone but the biggest dorks like comedy. Of course people have to say YES.”

Thoughts raced through my mind of writing a Tip about asking questions that people must answer the way you want, since there really isn’t any other logical answer.

But, as I stopped and observed–and apparently I was clogging up foot-traffic in tourist-like fashion, evidenced by the number of times I was called various names for body parts–it struck me that this was not a good question or method at all to engage people in this situation.

Some passersby ignored him. He’d yell, “It’s OK to say yes!”

Others said yes, but then kept walking, trying to avoid eye contact or conversation. Others would decline in a smart-ass way, saying something like they were allergic to comedy (Ironically proving it by their lame attempt to perform it).


Resistance to Being Sold
I realized that this question actually caused a natural reaction: resistance to being sold.

We all possess it. As so many of us teaching this stuff say, everyone likes to buy, but no one likes to be sold.

So, when faced with a situation where we feel that we’re about to be pitched, and are not in a frame of mind where we are looking for something, the natural defense shield rises.

When I went to the endodontist yesterday with tooth pain, I WANTED his recommendation and was ready to buy. I did. I bought a root canal on the spot. In and out in 90 minutes and $1500 lighter.

When I was walking through the shopping mall last week I dodged the woman in the kiosk who tried to grab me and pitch some hand creme that was selling for just a few bucks. In the first situation I was buying, in the other I was being sold.

Anyway, this got me thinking about the concept of what I call “Are you stupid?” sales questions and statements.

These are similar to the comedy-guy’s question, in that it forces a person to answer the way the questioner wants, otherwise it makes the person feel stupid if he does not respond in that way. And, of course, that is not conducive to selling, instead putting the person on the defensive.

There are many variations. You’ve probably heard, and maybe have been taught some. And they all should be avoided.

For example,

Stupid Question: “Of course you want to save money, don’t you?”

What is really heard:
“Of course you don’t want to be stupid, do you?”


Stupid Question: “If I could show you a way to save money, of course you’d want that, wouldn’t you?”

What is really heard:
“If I could show you a way to avoid being stupid, of course you’d want that, wouldn’t you?”


Stupid Question: “What, don’t you want to save money?”

What is really heard:
“Are you stupid?”


Stupid Question: “You like to save money, right?”

What is really heard: “You like not being stupid, right?”


Stupid Question:
“How important is money to you?”

What is really heard:
“How important is it to you to not be stupid?”


Stupid Question: “Now I know you’re a person who wants to save money, right?”

What is really heard:
“Now I know you’re a person who’s not stupid, right?”


I could go on and on. You might remember one I mentioned in a previous Tip. While picking up some books at Barnes & Noble, the clerk asked if I wanted their discount frequent buyer card, and I declined.

He then said, “What, don’t you like to save money?”

What I really heard:

“What, don’t you like not being stupid?”

The main point here is that using stupid questions is, well, stupid.


What to Do?
What to do instead? Go back and look at how these stupid questions are used. Come up with alternatives to accomplish your goal.

For example, if we’re trying to point out someone will save money, we need a series of questions to help us, and them, see the problem, the costs of the problem, and the result of the solution. This Tip already long, and I could go on and on, but instead, here’s a blog post with more on questioning http://smartcalling.com/dumb-questions-get-dumb-answers/, and here is a list of past posts on effective questioning http://smartcalling.com/category/questioning/).

Because, of course you don’t want to use stupid questions, do you? (Oooopps! There’s one!)
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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Paul Lanigan April 10, 2013 at 10:47 am

Couldn’t agree more Art. I remember the first time I got this. I was at home and a telemarketer called me up and the first thing out of his mouth was “would you like to save money on your telephone costs?”

I felt cornered because you feel stupid saying “no”

So I just said “I’d rather save time” and I hung up

(then I felt bad, but I hate to be so obviously manipulated)

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