Don’t Know The Answer To A Question? Turn It Into A Sale!

by Jeffrey Gitomer

When a prospect asks a question, and you, Mr. Know-it-all salesperson, don’t know the answer, what do you do?

Bigger question: what SHOULD you do? Here’s a hint: it may have something to do with the word “truth.”
Salespeople panic on the inside when they don’t know an answer because they fear that not knowing may lead to a loss of confidence on the part of the buyer, and that could lead to a loss of the sale.

Take heart — If you don’t know the answer, it could be a big selling opportunity.

Here are the “If you are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to” ground rules:

1. Compliment the person asking the question. “WOW! That was a great question!” It makes them feel important, intelligent and respected.

2. Be human. Admit you don’t know the answer.

3. Don’t fake an answer. Tell the truth in a creative way.

4. Be funny. “You should have asked me this question 10 years ago — I used to know everything — back before I turned twenty.”

5. Listen to everything associated to the question. And the implication that the answer may bring.

6. Write down answers and facts. To show you care and that the customer is important.

7. Look for the opportunity. To use the answer as a sale clincher.

8. Find out when the information is needed. And write down the date and time.

9. Determine how important the answer is to the sale. If it’s critical, the answer and the opportunity are greater.

10. Complete the rest of the presentation. And if possible, try to have the sale hanging on the answer to the unknown question.

11. Don’t panic. Truth and humility, combined with resourcefulness and action will equal the sale.
Here’s an example of how to admit you don’t know it in a positive way, and close the sale at the same time: “Wow, that’s a great question – no one ever asked me that before — I’m clueless about the answer — but I’m dying to find out myself. I’m going to personally find out and get back to you with the answer.

By the way, if the answer is ______ , should I go ahead and place the order?”

SALES LESSON: Not knowing an answer to a prospect’s question is not a problem. It’s a symptom. There are implications of the unknown answer that may be the root of the issue:

1. You may need more product knowledge.

2. There may be product or service applications you never thought of.

3. You’re not as familiar with how your product is used by your customer as you need to be.

4. You may not be familiar enough with your prospect’s industry.

5. You may not be knowledgeable about how your prospect’s customer is served.

6. Your market may be changing.

7. You may be slack.

If you decide you are going to try to fake the answer, here are the ramifications:

* You will probably guess wrong – making you look even more stupid down the road.

* The prospect will be able to sense that you are unsure of yourself.

* Sometimes salespeople try to avoid the question – this is worse (and more insulting) than anything you can do.

* By not telling the truth and being found out later or on the spot — any chance for a relationship (much less a sale) is over. Relationships are built on trust – truth is the foundation of trust.

Here are some helpful ideas about the situation and the answer, once you get it:

* Deliver the answer in person. The phone gives you no leverage.

* Use the unanswered question as a reason to reschedule before leaving the prospect’s office.

* Find out the answer before you promised. Surprise the prospect with the speed of your service.

* Use the tactic of “if” to close the sale BEFORE you find the answer. “If the answer is ——– would you——-?”

NOTE WELL: If the answer does lead to a sale, there’s a big bonus. You may be able to use that same answer to sell others in the same business category or industry as your prospect. WOW! All that for just telling the truth and finding an answer.

Jeffrey Gitomer, author of The Sales Bible, and Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless. President of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer, he gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings, and conducts internet training programs on selling and customer service. He can be reached at 704/333-1112 or e-mail to

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