The Worst Question to Ask a Customer

So many sales people ask me about what is the best question to use in selling. I have shared my all time favorite one – I called it the Million Dollar Question – and I shared it a while back on this site.

Yet, the biggest mistake made by sales people is to ask the “wrong” question which challenges the intelligence of the customer. This question surprisingly is triggered by one word. When you use this word at the wrong time to begin a question, you have opened up “Pandora’s box” and you are about to get bit where you don’t want to be bitten – in your bank account.

You’re probably wondering at this time, just what is this powerful yet negative question?

The worst question you can ask a customer is… Any question that begins with the word – WHY… .

What is so bad about the word why you are thinking. Well, while you’re thinking, think back to your childhood years and the question used by your parents or authority figures that caused you much emotion.

That’s right, the “why” question generates memories of our parents or authority figures questioning our choices or decisions with the typical question of…

Why did you do that?

Which immediately brought on a spirited emotional debate to justify your decision or choice. You got emotional with the implied statement of “that was a stupid thing to do!” Then there was no chance of an objective dialogue with anyone.

Here is the real issue.

Let’s say you have been working with a customer for an extended period of time – sharing information, solving their problems, negotiating the deal, working through all the resistance and objections – and the customer then tells you the timing is not right, or let me think it over, or let me discuss it some others or the price is just not good enough.

Then you make the mistake of reacting to this rejection with the old-fashioned – okay stupid tell me why you made that decision? Okay, you don’t outwardly state it that bluntly, yet you will have a tendency – due to frustration – to ask …

Why did you decide to do think it over? or Why did you decide that? or Why do you want to speak to someone else? or Why do you think our prices are too high?

Now Pandora’s Box opens wide. The reason is simple – you brought back the negative emotions when the customer had to justify their choice or decision to a parent or authority figure in their live. And, yes it is true – people are still connected to their childhood traumas. When they hit this state of mind – they can also act like children with anger, raised voices or just cutting off any new discussion at that moment!

You do deserve an answer. To have an objective conversation in order to both learn what is missing and open a door to become successful with this customer, you will need to ask questions the right way. The best way is to use the word “How” or even better “Help me understand…” and lose the word “why” – unless you just enjoy confrontation and emotional actions. ?

Reduce the probability of raising a negative emotional experience and use a sincere “help me understand” question and you will find yourself in more helpful dialogues with your customers. These types of dialogues build trust and rapport – a form of acceptance of you being a peer rather than a vendor!

Use this Rule of Thumb – the ONLY person you can ask a WHY question to is YOURSELF. Yes, sometimes we need to discover why we do certain things so a good emotional self dialogue is healthy. As long as you finish your self talk with an action commitment.

Go forth and sale – your customers are waiting.


The following two tabs change content below.

Voss Graham

Sr Business Advisor / CEO at InnerActive Consulting Group Inc
Your Knowledgeable Partner for Business Success and Achievement. Dedicated to helping others get to their next level of success. Award winning business advisor; coach to executives and business owners; Business Growth Strategist; and experienced using assessments for hiring & selection, evaluation of teams and improving communication. Voss is available as a Speaker for your conferences or company meetings contact him at 901-757-4434 or use the LinkedIn or Facebook direct messages.

Latest posts by Voss Graham (see all)

Leave a Comment