Why Do Salespeople Have Trouble Asking a Direct Question?

by Jacques Werth

Gary Boye, a top sales trainer from Buffalo, NY once told me, “I teach salespeople to ask their prospects, ‘Do you like the carpet?’ or ‘Do you like the flooring?’  Only about 10% will ask that question.  Have you encountered that problem?”

I said, “Yes, I have.  We teach salespeople to ask, ‘Is this something you want?’  It’s a simple and direct question, but almost half have trouble asking it.  I don’t know why.”


Author: Carl Ingalls

Administrator for High Probability Selling Blog

12 thoughts on “Why Do Salespeople Have Trouble Asking a Direct Question?”

  1. We all want to look good and be right. If you ask a direct question, you risk looking bad and being wrong. It is dangerous to ask direct questions, and we know it, so we avoid the danger.

    If we ask the direct question, and they say, “No, I don’t want it,” we have two choices:

    1. Say “OK, goodbye,” and end the conversation (walk away looking bad).
    2. Ask “Why,” and waste each other”s time for a while. (discuss it end up being wrong)

    Neither of those is a comfortable choice, so we avoid asking the direct question in the first place.


    1. Why do you think you “walk away looking bad” when you say, “Okay. Goodbye.” ?

      If the prospect does not want what I have to offer, I want to know as soon as possible, so I can quickly move on to find someone who does want my offer.


      1. Paul,

        I believe Steve was talking about how people in general make emotional decisions, rather than logical ones. The “walk away looking bad” reference is about feeling, not rational thinking.

        Even people who are well aware of the “I want to know as soon as possible” reasoning often find it difficult to ask the prospect if they want what is being offered.



    2. “1. Say “OK, goodbye,” and end the conversation (walk away looking bad).”

      As a potential buyer, I’ve had salespeople take “no” for an answer from me, without trying to fight with me, and then they exit stage left, ASAP. .I always feel a surge of respect and goodwill towards them when they do that.


  2. I am a bit disappointed with the answer. I could have given that answer… because I don’t know why. However, when someone that professes to be a sales expert simply says; I don’t know why; it leaves me unfulfilled. Where are the study and or assessment of the problem? It is a problem and has been one for as long as people have been selling. “I don’t know why” is as shallow as it sounds. I expected more.


  3. If I fear asking a direct question that needs to be asked, is it because I am afraid that the person is going to reject what I have to offer?

    I have to be honest with myself, including when I talk with prospective clients.

    Falling into fear and failing to ask the direct question doesn’t lead to trust and respect. It prevents me from understanding the other person. It sends us in another (wrong) direction.

    Trust requires that I face reality in each situation.


  4. We observe what top sales producers do when they work with prospects and customers. Many of them aren’t aware of what they do until we quote them verbatim.

    Asking them why they do what they do, does not result in consistent responses. However, it does bias any further study of that salesperson.


  5. Answers to questions “do you like…” is a reflection of customer preference. Why not follow up with another question such as “if not, why not?” Wouldn’t this customer feedback, if repeated across several customers, be valuable to modifying the offer?


    1. Hello Brian. Asking “why not” when someone says they don’t like something might be valuable when doing general research. My own preference would be to just ask “why” all by itself. In my experience, saying less in my question usually gives me more useful information in their answer.

      However, we don’t ask “do you like” when we are prospecting. We ask, “Is that something you want.” If they say no, we respect that as it is, and we never question them. We only ask why when they say yes.

      We test our offers by delivering them as real offers and measuring the results. I don’t know of any way that works better.

      Thank you for your question. – Carl Ingalls


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