Let’s say you’re a C-Level executive or a staff manager doing your job and someone comes into your office. Who would you rather sit opposite: (1) a detective trying to interrogate you about what you’re doing, or how you’re doing your business or (2) an interested person (maybe a friend) asking what kind of problems or challenges you’re having today with an aspect of your business ….., and what would you like to do about them?


I recently asked a sales manager about his approach and how he coaches his sales people. Since the main benefit his products and services offer is safety, he said, “We ask, ‘What are you doing about safety?’ or ‘How are you handling your safety problems?’”

Now if someone asks me questions, such as “What am I doing about my internet marketing?” or “How am I generating leads?” I say without hesitation, “It’s none of your business.”

These are interrogating questions. Why should I tell a stranger how I do my marketing or what I’m doing to generate leads? Even if I were open, I’d tell him something that shows I know what I’m doing – even if I could use some help.

Sales people (and managers) feel comfortable asking the “How do you do …” or “What are you doing about…,” or “Do you have this or that?” questions – “this or that” meaning something they have that could help the prospect to improve. This is an interrogation which puts prospects on the defensive.

Although sales people mean well and try to show knowledge of prospects’ businesses, they come across as pushy/salesy and most likely irritating. They also send the message that they will be judging how you are handling it, or they are about to tell you how you should run your business. These impressions do not set the stage well for moving prospects in sales person’s direction.


The better approach is the interview. Ask about desires/objectives and problems attaining them. These desires/objectives should be related to what your services provide and solve – your solution portfolio. Throw one out and see if it is a desire for the prospect and what problems he is having attaining it. If not, ask about another potential desire your services provide.

So I said to the sales manager, “Why not ask, ‘What problems are you having with safety?’ or ‘Are you having problems with safety, and if so what are they?’” These questions encourage the person to open up rather than defend his actions.

The sales manager said, “My sales people would be crazy to ask such questions because there are safety signs and charts and slogans everywhere. Of course he has problems with safety and we’d look foolish asking.”

Not necessarily; you must realize prospects have problems and everyone wants to tell them what to do about them. But few want to listen to how the prospects want to handle them. Besides, safety may not be on the priority list right now. If you miss on either count prospects become resistant. Have you ever notice this? If so, maybe presuming and or interrogating. Either way you’re irritating.

The Next Step in Interviewing

If when you ask about problems/issues/challenges with a particular benefit and the person says he has none, you can pepper him with, “What about this benefit?” or “What about …?” (Not, “How do you do something?)

Once the prospect picks up on a benefit you’ve offered, ask him to tell you about it. Hear him out. Encourage him to keep talking about the problems or challenges. Don’t be so anxious to jump in to solve them. Actually, let the prospect offer up what he wants to do about them or ask him how he wants to solve them. Who knows where it will go.

Interviewing a prospect requires two key questions. One is to determine if there is a problem or desire. The other is to determine what the person wants to do about it.

The first question allows you to learn this person’s mindset and priorities, and the other question will show his path to a solution. Both are about him, not you. Even though his answers may not fit your solutions at the moment, you’ll learn something very valuable, and because you kept it about him, you’ll develop rapport.

And now, since you have listened to his story, he will feel compelled to listen to yours. It’s called the Law of Reciprocity. He’ll also be more receptive to your suggestion, even though it possibly differs from his solution path.

So interview and you’ll break through. Interrogate and you’ll irritate.

And now I invite you to learn more

Bonus Tip: FREE E-Book - Getting Past Gatekeepers and Handling Blockers . If you can’t get to the powerful decision makers, you’re depending on others to do your selling for you. The problem is you won’t know what they say, or if they say anything at all. Read this powerful e-book to help you get to the leader.

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Author's Bio: 

Sam Manfer is the leading expert on selling to CEOs and powerful people. Sam is a sales strategist, entertaining key note speaker and author of TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER$, The Complete Guide to C-Level Selling – getting to and influencing top level decision-makers. Sam makes it easy for any business owner, manager or sales professional to generate quality leads, and beat the competition. Grab your FREE E-Books, Articles and other Advanced Sales Training Tips at http://www.sammanfer.com