The Life Changing Question - Part 2

Bob Leggitt | Thursday, 12 January 2012 |

This is the second part in my Life Changing Question series. Part 1 gives you the background on what all this is about. If you haven’t already read Part 1, I’d recommend doing so before you read this, as it provides a lot of information on the importance of moderating your question/answer ratio, and explains why asking, as opposed to answering questions, is so heavily linked with success. Here's the link to Part 1...

If you've read Part 1, it's now time for us to start analysing the different categories of question. We begin with a type of question which stands at the forefront of all serious commercial interaction. It's actually evasive (which, as we saw in Part 1, is important), but it appears helpful. That's why the qualifying question is so incredibly powerful...


The qualifying question is a secondary question which is asked straight in the face of an initial question. It acknowledges the initial question. but rather than answer it, it solicits extra information which might make the initial question easier to answer. For example, if someone asked you: “How do I get to High Street?”, you might reply with the qualifying question: “Which end of High Street do you need to get to?” You haven’t given an answer – you have in fact asked a question, but importantly, you’ve expressed an interest in answering the initial question to the fullest satisfaction of the inquisitor.

Because it’s such a friendly, caring way to gain control of a conversation, the qualifying question is extensively used by salespeople. In fact, in any environment it’s one of the most effective ways to regain control when under pressure from an inquisitor. As an example, let’s imagine a customer has walked into a shop to buy a specific TV set…

Customer: “How much is the XYZ2000?”

Vendor: “Well Sir, we’d look to give you the best possible deal. What’s the best price you’ve seen so far?

The customer’s question has been addressed by the vendor with another question – a qualifying question. Although the vendor has responded, she hasn’t actually answered the initial question. The customer still has no idea how much the vendor wants for the TV, but the vendor has apparently expressed an interest in addressing his needs to a high degree of satisfaction.

The vendor has been extremely clever here, because whilst she hasn’t answered the customer’s question, she’s actually made it appear that she has. Plus, she’s thrown a question straight back at the customer, reversing the impetus of control, and setting herself up to gain a piece of valuable information. Even more impressively, in those two simple sentences, she’s additionally managed to express to the customer that she’s acting in his best interests, rather than in her own.

In reality, she’s not trying to save him money – she’s trying to avoid quoting a price which is below what he’s expecting to pay. In other words, if she quotes him a figure of £299, but the best deal he’s seen so far is £349, she’s effectively losing the potential to maximise her profit. If she was to charge him £339, he'd be getting the TV £10 cheaper than he'd seen elsewhere, and she'd be making £40 above her initial instinct figure of £299. But she doesn't know he'll accept a quote of £339 until she finds out what's going on in his mind. The vendor knows if she gives the customer a straight 'instinct' quote which is too low, she could throw away some profit. But she also knows that if she gives him an 'instinct' quote which is too high, he could categorise her as a rip-off merchant and leave. Hence her question.

If, however, the customer is Q&A aware, he’ll answer the vendor’s qualifying question with a slapback question of his own – perhaps reminding her that she hasn’t actually answered his initial question. In so doing, he'll re-establish control of the conversation, and in this case, save money. He might proceed with: “Well actually I’m just looking to compare a selection of lowest prices, so can I just ask you to save me some time and quote your absolute lowest price?”

Now the vendor is under real pressure. She can see her customer doesn’t want to discuss the prices he’s been quoted so far, and now he’s essentially repeated his initial question, along with a specific implication that he knows she’s trying to maximise profit and that he only wants to hear her lowest price. He’s politely saying that he knows what she’s up to, and that he’s not prepared to play the game. Worse still (for her), he’s also implied that time is an issue, so she needs to beware of ‘going round the houses’ and stay straight to the point. If the vendor is highly skilled in sales, she may be able to negotiate a bit further, but by and large if she’s going to continue prodding at someone who’s already repeated himself once and appears to be in a rush she’s treading on dangerous ground. Most salepeople will be well aware of this and will feel pressure to pitch in with a quote at this point.

As a consumer, refusing to answer this type of commercial qualifying question will save you money in many buying environments. It's imperative to recognise that as soon as you start to answer questions rather than ask them, you're on a downward spiral, and the above example illustrates one particular set of circumstances which prove the point. But this is not just important when you're buying a TV. The more you analyse the questions people ask, and consider how you should respond to them, the more potential you'll see in using this technique. Listen to what happens next time you take a telesales call and decline to answer any of the questions. If you decline to answer the first one or two questions the caller asks, they'll immediately realise they can't sell you anything and end the call. That's because all pro-active sales scripts are totally reliant on the principle of control through questioning. It's even more interesting if you turn the questions back on the telesales caller. Nine times out of ten they won't have a clue what to say, and in some cases they'll be so completely disorientated that they'll even cut the line on you!

It takes practice, but if you can master the art of the qualifying question, you’ll undoubtedly exercise a far greater degree of control over your life in general. Best of all, people will respect you more. Oh, and one other phenomenal benefit – you can hide the truth without ever having to lie!

In Part 3, we'll be looking at a very specific question which far too many consumers are actually scared to use! But there's no need for fear, and if you don't ask, it could cost you dear - as we'll see. Here's the link to Part 3...

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