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Don't Ask Questions that Start with "If I Could"

Just don't do it. Don't ask questions that seem manipulative or "sales-y" including the classic "If I could..."

don't ask questions

When the seller forgets or sets aside the intention to understand buyer needs, he or she asks different kinds of questions. It is apparent with those questions when the seller has become self-focused. Buyers describe these questions as low value, time-wasting, off-putting and offensive.

To differentiate yourself from those kinds of sellers, don't ask questions that buyers will perceive in those negative ways.

There are five kinds of manipulative-sounding questions sellers should avoid. If you hear yourself asking these types of questions, check your intention. Chances are a recalibration of strategic intention will help you get back on track with more productive and more effective questions.

Over the next few weeks, we'll tackle all five "don't ask questions" here in the CONNECT2Sell Blog. We'll start with this cringe-worthy one because so many sellers ask it so often.

Please don't ask questions that begin with the words "If I could..."

This commonly used technique is an obvious set-up. The seller asks the buyer a question to fabricate a conditional commitment. Then the seller proceeds to deliver on the condition he or she set up for the buyer with an expectation the buyer will cover for site 2015proceed.

When the sale is nearing the close or in response to a sales objection, this can be an effective technique. But sellers should avoid slipping into this technique earlier in the sales process when their intent is to understand buyer needs. These questions do not reveal needs. They only reveal buyer responses to if/then scenarios.

There is a risk a buyer will feel manipulated at any stage of the sales process where this technique is used. Sellers should proceed with caution if they choose this phrasing or this technique. It is commonly used and is, therefore, familiar to buyers. Additionally, it feels like a trap and may cause buyers to put up their defenses. Sellers should evaluate their intent before using this technique, and they may wish to use a straightforward statement in these situations rather than setting up an if/then condition.

Examples of “If I Could…” questions include:

  • If I could save you time, you’d be interested, right?
  • What if I could show you how to get out of that contract?
  • If I could match the price would you buy from me?

In some cases, a straightforward statement will serve the seller better. Rather than asking a hypothetical “If I Could” question, a seller can choose a statement like “I believe I can match that price and eliminate your concern about moving forward.” This conveys the seller’s intention and more efficiently moves the sale forward.

An assumptive statement like this is, in essence, what the seller who asks an “If I Could” question is telling the buyer. The subtle difference is there is no pretense of a condition and no perceived attempt to back the buyer into a corner.

One buyer said it this way “If you can, just say so.”

Check back next week or pick up a copy of DISCOVER Questions® Get You Connected to learn about the questions you should avoid. This is based on field research with buyers and packed with practical examples you can apply right away.

Next Steps:

  • To learn more about DISCOVER Questions® and how to get connected in meaningful ways with your buyers, order your copy of this bestseller from Amazon.com
  • When you need sales or management coaching, customized sales training, or a dynamic speaker call us at 408-779-PFPS or book an appointment with Deb.
  • Check out these resources for sales managers and front line sellers. New webinars, infographics, research, podcasts and more added every month!


The award-winning CONNECT2Sell Blog is for professional sellers who believe, as we do, that Every Sale Starts with a Connection.

Deb Calvert, “DISCOVER Questions® Get You Connected” author and Top 50 Sales Influencer, is President of People First Productivity Solutions, a UC Berkeley instructor, and a former Sales/Training Director of a Fortune 500 media company. She speaks and writes about the Stop Selling & Start Leading movement and offers sales training, coaching and consulting as well as leadership development programs. She is certified as an executive and sales coach by the ICF and is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge®. Deb has worked in every sector and in 14 countries to build leadership capacity, team effectiveness and sales productivity with a “people first” approach.

Topics: asking questions, questions, CONNECT2SELL Blog, DISCOVER Questions™, needs assessment, needs-based selling

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