Ask the Right Question to Close the Sale

One of the unforeseen benefits of focusing on growth is that I started becoming attuned to helpful advice on growth. Ironically, in sales, it’s important to help our prospects to focus. Asking the right questions is the best way to do this. These questions help determine the root of their anxiety and how we can help remove pain points. The New York Times bestselling author and organizational sales expert, Daniel Pink, uncovered a helpful tactic for getting prospects to focus. His approach is also helpful in motivating employees, friends, teenagers, and beyond.


Communicating With Your Kids

I was fortunate to find myself sharing the stage with Daniel Pink at a conference, and we struck up a conversation in the green room. To explain this particular focusing tactic, he uses the scenario of a parent with a messy teenage daughter.

To paraphrase Pink from our conversation:

“Most parents will take the approach of, ‘Cindy please go clean your room.’

‘I don’t feel like it, Dad, and why does it matter?’

“At this point, the dad is most likely to respond in a manner such as ‘You should clean your room because I told you to clean it! The reason it’s important is…’

“And he will proceed down the path of listing out the benefits of cleaning: discipline, finding things more easily, accomplishment and pride, not being embarrassed when your friends visit, etc. These are all perfectly good reasons for cleaning her room. The problem? They aren’t likely to change her behavior because the reasons are Dad’s, not Cindy’s. However, with the help of the two simple questions, everything can change.

‘Good morning, Cindy, on a scale of 1-10, how ready are you to clean your room?’

‘I’d say probably a 4. Yeah, a solid 4.’

‘That’s great, Cindy, but I’m curious as to why you didn’t pick a lower number, something around a 2 or 3?’

‘Oh, I don’t know. I figure I should probably clean it today or tomorrow since Harley and Sarah are coming over on Friday. It would be a little embarrassing if my dirty bras and underwear are lying around. It will make things easier to find—like my favorite shirt, it will give me a sense of accomplishment, and I know it will make you and Mom happy. So, I guess that’s why I answered a 4.”

The reasons she gives are almost exactly the same as Dad’s reasons. The critical difference is that she is formulating them.

The key to this method is to use it sparingly with employees or teenage daughters. Otherwise, it becomes ineffective.


Asking the Right Questions to Get to the Sale

With clients or sales prospects, the interactions are less frequent, so it can be even more effective. I was hired by a very well-known jewelry company to help with its focus on the retail level. We were able to use this method effectively with their sales associates. Specifically, the scenario that most often played out in the store was this:

Sales Associate:          Can I help you?

Customer:                     Yes, I’m looking for some earrings.

Sales Associate:           Fantastic. Any special occasion?

Customer:                     Yes, it’s for our five-year anniversary.

Sales Associate:           Congratulations! That’s wonderful news. When is the big day?

Customer:                     Next Saturday, so I’d really like to figure this out today.

Sales Associate:           “Great. Given the pressing timeline on a scale of 1-10, how confident are you about knowing what she doesn’t like?”


Notice the salesperson purposely says “doesn’t to narrow the selection process. Most people feel confident in someone else’s dislikes since that subset doesn’t seem as open as what she does like. Also, the customer now views the world through a different lens. As long as he avoids picking the items she doesn’t like, he can be confident in his selection.


Customer:                     I’d say I’m probably around an 8 on knowing what she doesn’t like.

Sales Associate:           Great, an 8 is pretty good. What doesn’t she like?

Customer:                     She definitely doesn’t like gold or copper. She also doesn’t like anything too big since she has
smaller ears.

Sales associate:            Well, you know quite a lot. On the opposite side, what earrings do you remember her wearing for a special occasion, like going out to a nice restaurant?

Customer:                     She wore some round double diamonds the other day. She wears those quite a lot.

Sales Associate:           Perfect. If it’s okay for you, I can show you our silver and platinum lines that have two or three diamonds—so they are similar to what you know she likes but also will be unique enough to be special.

This scenario is less about motivation and more about focusing on details to help suppress the anxiety and paralysis of making the wrong purchase. Notice that asking the right questions helps combat the paradox of choice. The question, “What does she like?” is too open, big, and overwhelming. Asking what she doesn’t like is easier to answer and can often help the buyer focus.


Source: Erik Qualman, author of The Focus Project