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The Problem with Using a Script for Questions

If you're using a script for questions during needs assessment, you're going to miss important information.

Script for QuestionsHere's the problem with all those books and training manuals and tools that include a script for questions: canned questions do not work. In fact, they will work against you instead of working for you.

All too often, when sellers rely on a script for questions, they do not know exactly why they are asking a particular question.

Without understanding the strategic purpose of the questions they ask, sellers will sound scattered. Their questions will not make sense to buyers. Although they made sense in the prepared script for questions, in a live setting these same questions just don't work.

Additionally, not grasping the strategic value of questions causes sellers to miss key information revealed in response to those questions. When sellers ask random questions with no clear direction, they talk over their buyers or ask multiple questions in rapid fire. This is confusing for buyers. For sellers, it is unproductive because the constant retooling of questions and attempts to recover from awkward questions take their focus off listening to the buyers’ responses.

Here's what can happen when you use a script for questions:

The dialogue below is a script from an actual sales call. This seller decided never to use a script for questions again.

After this call, the seller learned to think more strategically about how to craft questions and about the importance of understanding the intention behind each question. Building those skills made a huge difference in his sales interactions. As you read through the dialogue of the call, try to relate to what’s happening. Look for parallels between what this seller is doing and what you may be doing in sales calls when you, too, lack clarity about what you’d like to know.

Seller: So… How long have you been in business?

Buyer: Next year will be our 10-year anniversary.

Seller: I bet the years have gone by quickly. Did you start the business?

Buyer: Yes. I had a partner at first.

Seller: Didn’t work out?

Buyer: It was okay. I bought him out when he decided to move because his wife took a job in Cincinnati.

Seller: So now it’s just you making all the decisions? Do you have any silent partners or other people involved?

Buyer: My management team makes a lot of the decisions. It just depends on the type of decision and what’s involved.

Seller: So big decisions go up for a vote? I mean, let’s say you were thinking about a change in suppliers. Would everyone be involved in that decision or would you just tell them? Is it all managers or certain managers?

Buyer: It really depends on…

Seller: (Interrupting) Like if you were thinking my company could be a good fit with your company… Then what? Who else would you be talking to about doing business with us? Should they be here now? Would it be better if I met directly with someone else?

Buyer: Since I don’t know a lot about your systems, I can’t answer that right now. I took the meeting to try and understand more about the full integration functionality you mentioned. We have some systems that work well, some that don’t. The idea of full integration is appealing but could be overwhelming. I’m just looking to get a better sense of what’s involved before I bring in anyone else.

Seller: Okay, I have some other questions, too, so let me just look at my list here… We don’t really know who the decision makers will be. Next, um, could you tell me more about your budgeting processes and buying cycles?

Buyer: Yeah, sure. What do you want to know?

Seller: Well, budget process… And it says buying cycles… Let’s just come back to that later.

Buyer: It’s…cover for site 2015

Seller: (Interrupting) I just don’t feel right asking about that. Let’s try this one. What is the lifetime value of a customer?

Buyer: Hmmmm… I’d have to do some calculations… That’s a good question. Let me open up this referral data…

Seller: (10 seconds later) We can come back to that, too. I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Who is your ideal customer? You know, the company size, geography or whatever…

Buyer: Right. Is it okay if I bring up a little data to answer that? We track it and it’s the first of the month, so I’ve got the most recent report.

Seller: If you want, you can just send it to me.

Buyer: No, I can’t send this. It’s not something I want floating around.

Seller: I understand. So what is the average transaction for a sale?

Buyer: Do you want me to look that up?

Seller: Only if you want. You could just give me a ballpark number. I’m also wondering about frequency of transactions. Like how often does a customer purchase, I think?

Buyer: This is a lot of detailed information. Where are you going with this?

Seller: I’m just, uh, asking questions about your business before I tell you about my business. You know, to see the fit for both of us? To, um, uh, you know, help you make the right selection?

In this situation, the seller had been given a list of pre-written script of needs assessment questions. The seller had not yet been to a training program to learn the purpose or value of these questions. He didn’t know what some of the questions meant, let alone how the information gathered could be used. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. It is one of the reasons why sellers reject questions and the process of needs assessment.

Throughout this dialogue, the seller asked the questions and expected the buyer to provide instant answers. Presumably, the seller thought the value of the question would become apparent in the answer. When pressed to explain a question or the purpose of a question, the seller was unable to do so. The seller saw so little value in the questions that he did not allow time for the buyer to answer even when the buyer affirmed the question.

This seller did not understand the content of his own questions nor the intent behind them. Without clarity of intent, questions will not be crafted effectively. Without understanding the content you’d like to see in a response, you can’t craft questions to efficiently yield that content.

If you'd like to learn more about how to craft your own questions and conduct an effective needs assessment, be sure to read DISCOVER Questions® Get You Connected. This approach to questions is what truly differentiates sellers and creates value for buyers.

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, CONNECT2SELL Blog, DISCOVER Questions™, needs assessment, question content

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