Why 'If I Could' Questions Are So Dangerous

Why ‘If I Could’ Questions Are So Dangerous


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These kinds of sales techniques back your buyer into a corner.


Just don’t do it. Don’t ask questions that seem manipulative or “sales-y,” including the classic “If I could …”

Sellers often lapse into these kinds of questions when they forget they’re supposed to be focusing on the buyers’ needs. It is apparent with those questions that 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.

We’ll tackle one of the most cringe-worthy—“If I could”—because so many sellers ask it so often.

Why ‘If I Could’ Is a Bad Idea

This commonly used technique is an obvious setup. The seller asks the buyer a question to make 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 proceed.

In certain situations—when the sale is nearing the close or when the buyer raises a sales objection—“If I could” can be an effective tactic. But sellers should avoid slipping into this technique earlier in the sales process when their intent is to understand buyer needs. “If I could” questions do not reveal needs. They only reveal buyer responses to if-then scenarios.

Plus, there is a risk a buyer will feel manipulated at any stage of the sales process where this technique is used. It feels like a trap and may cause buyers to put up their defenses.

Sellers 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?

A Better Alternative

A straightforward statement might 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.”

Deb Calvert

Written by

Deb Calvert is the author of the bestseller “DISCOVER Questions® Get You Connected,” president of People First Productivity Solutions and a UC-Berkeley instructor on sales development principles. deb.calvert@peoplefirstps.com // www.peoplefirstps.com

Categories: Sales

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