The first time I heard these questions, my stomach wrenched inside me.

They felt wrong, dead wrong. I could never imagine myself asking them.

Yet, they were — and still are — part of some sales training programs. Some of them may even be ingrained into your sales DNA. But seriously, these questions have got to go!

So what are these sales-killing questions? Here are a couple of examples:

    • “If I could show you a way to solve that problem, could we do business today?”

    • “If you like what you see in the [presentation, demo, etc.], is there any reason we couldn’t go ahead with your order?”

These “gotcha” sales questions, often asked quite early in a sales conversation, are designed to get prospects to pre-commit to an action they might not otherwise take.

The fallout of “gotcha” questions

Prospects are usually so shocked at the inappropriate nature of these questions that they don’t know how to react. They give a waffling response, trying to avoid being rude while refusing to agree to what has been asked. Most important, these questions cause prospects to immediately lose respect for the seller, who has come across as more of a huckster than a valuable resource.

If you’re in the habit of asking these types of questions, here are some ways to prevent yourself from saying something you might regret:

1. Find the trigger:

To escape the gotcha question trap, first you need to find your trigger. Start by identifying what prompts you to ask this type of question. Are you:

    • Getting ready to give an overview of your offering?

    • Showing a specific slide?

    • Responding to something your prospect has said?

    • Feeling scared that if you don’t close today, you’ll lose the business?

Go back into your memory and think about it. When do these questions tend to escape from your mouth?

2. Plan an alternative approach: 

Once you have identified your triggers, you can consciously plan out an alternative approach. Do it before your next meeting, before you ask this type of question again. Be very specific about what you’re going to say and how you’ll react when you encounter your trigger. Don’t simply rephrase the question. It’s inappropriate to try to close at this stage. Drop the idea entirely.

Focus instead on your prospect’s business. Consider asking about their priorities, issues, challenges and objectives — things that open the door for you to discuss your product or service. That’s what they’re interested in. That’s why they are willing to talk to you. The more you learn about these areas, the higher likelihood you’ll have of winning their business.

3. Repeat, repeat, repeat. 

Practice makes perfect, so you need to practice these new approaches before you put them into practice. Say them out loud. That’s right, practice your alternative approach out loud. You’ll immediately discover that it feels awkward, but that’s just because it’s new to you. Say it again and again until you get comfortable with this new language. If, after saying it aloud for a while, it doesn’t sound good, think of ways to improve it.

Yes, it’s a lot of work to change a bad habit. But, it’s extremely costly not to. If you keep asking gotcha questions, you’re virtually guaranteed to lose the business of today’s savvy prospects.

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