How to Avoid Looking Stupid When Asking Questions

By John Aberle | Business Lifestyle

Jul 09

Dunce on Stool

How to Avoid Feeling Stupid When Asking Questions

I’ve often wondered why salespeople have such a hard time asking questions that dig deeply enough to understand what their customers want. I’ve seen consultants do the same thing. The danger is that we make assumptions and then propose the wrong solution. Because the customer either recognizes immediately that it won’t work or maybe tries it before discovering it doesn’t work, we’ve lost credibility and trust.

Among the many reasons I’ve discovered for not asking enough questions, is that people are afraid of looking stupid when asking questions. They figure that what the prospect just said is probably something they should know so they ignore it or try to bluff their way through it. The result of this approach is to fail to cover something that’s really important to your potential customer, try to fake it when making your presentation about how your products and services will take care of that issue – which you mention but didn’t really understand so your solution looks dumb, or you propose a fix to something that was really a surface issue and not important.

When you operate from a heart-centered, soft sell sales and marketing viewpoint, it should make sense that you want to come across sincere and trustworthy. You do this largely by taking time to ask the questions for understanding. People forgive a lot of mistakes if they feel you really care about helping them. This presupposes, of course, that you actually have the in-depth product knowledge necessary to recognize the solution needed once you understand their concerns.

Two key points before you get into your sales call:

  • Put your attention on really helping your prospects solve their needs or reach their dreams. The more you focus on the other person, the more you will be able to put the pressure of making sales in the background of your thoughts and so your fear and anxiety will largely disappear.
  • Nobody knows everything – prepare the best you can, then have the humility to ask what isn’t clear to you.

Here are some tips to avoid looking stupid when asking questions:

1st – Ask when you don’t know

  • Ask for clarification: “I’ve heard this term, but I’m not sure what it means in this context. Could you please tell me what it means to you?”
  • Ask for background: “How are you handling this now? … What’s working? … What’s not working? … Why do you think that is?”
  • Ask questions, listen to the answers then dig deeper.

2nd – Realize that some prospects too want to avoid looking stupid so they will use jargon in your industry to give the impression you can’t fool them because they’re in the know.

  • First off, avoid making them look stupid by drawing attention to the fact that their statement is meaningless or wrong.
  • Instead, ask them to explain, “I can understand how Super Thingamajigees might seem important. Would you help me appreciate more how you see them as important to your most important challenges right now?”

3rd – Avoid using jargon to sound like you’re in the group if you don’t fully understand the jargon – some terms mean different things in different groups
4th – Do research on the industry before the meeting so you understand the main terms they use and their interests.

Helping prospects and customers come to know, like and trust you is an ongoing process. Great salespeople realize when working with people, there is always more to learn. Nevertheless, the above points to put yourself in the right frame of mind and the other four points will help you to avoid looking stupid when asking questions. These tips will also make it easier for you to make a connection that leads to trust and long term relationships. Then you will find selling is fun, fulfilling and mutually rewarding.

To get value out of this article, find three to five terms or expressions used in an industry you want to break into and get their definitions. Write a sentence for each then ask someone in that industry if you used the terms right.


About the Author

My first Kindle eBook, How Relationship Selling Rewards Small Businesses, went live on April 24, 2012. I've lived a lifetime of service and spiritual search so it's natural for me to incorporate these attitudes into my work. I believe that selling and marketing are spiritual service when done with a heart-centered, relationship selling approach. All of business success comes down to building strong relationships.