Management Retail Service

Ask leading and difficult questions with confidence

Order Reprints
Ask leading and difficult questions with confidence

We have been looking at the importance of asking questions, the right questions in the right order for the right reasons that generate the right results.

It’s impossible to be in sales or customer service and not ask questions. Sales is all about discovery and delivery. We discover the customer’s wants and needs by asking questions, and we deliver valid and helpful recommendations based on our discovery. Think for a minute how many questions are required for a simple oil change, starting with, “How may I help you today?”

I was always amazed by the number of customers arriving at the sales counter having pre-diagnosed their vehicle’s problem, and then amazed at the questions they asked. Customers traditionally ask, “How much is it to ...?” or “How much do you get for ...?” You can fill in the blanks. They also like to use words such as “small” and “easy” and “only,” as if fixing a “small” electrical problem is “easy.” Don’t all problems start small?

These questions are usually followed by my all-time favorite question and comment. The most dangerous question asked by a customer at a retail counter is, “Can I ask you a simple question?” And my favorite comment follows it, “My mechanic says ...” I must now confess, the questions I always wanted to respond with, “What’s your mechanic’s name, and what are you doing here?”

Well, people are funny and questions are important!

I’d like to offer some encouraging solutions you can use when asking the toughest two questions in our industry, starting with closing-type questions (asking for the sale). And the last point is the question we all hate to ask.. but first, the closing questions.

Gaining confidence

Studies have shown that how we say what we say is more important than what we say. When it’s time to close the sale, you must have confidence in the questions you have asked and be confident you can successfully select and perform the services you are about to recommend to the customer. Your recommendation should include comments based on the questions you asked and the customer answered.

If, during your discovery period, the customer said, “I don’t want any more problems,” referring to a leaking radiator, you must confidently recommend new hoses, radiator cap, etc. In prior articles, I outlined important types of questions that set the table for the closing questions: Open-ended questions that get the customer talking: fact-finding questions, qualifying questions, leading questions, and rapport-building questions. A true counter intelligence professional gathers the right information via the right questions that make the closing questions almost automatic, right?

As a former counter intelligence professional, I preferred to ask, “Are you going to be leaving your car with us today? It was a bit of a double entendre. I was actually asking two questions, “Am I going to get the sale?” and “Will you be waiting here or picking your car up later?”

I’d like to offer some leading questions/comments that we all use and perhaps a few we don’t. These are closing questions/comments as we attempt to assume the sale.

  • When would you like to pick up your car?
  • What is the best number to reach you?
  • May I have your keys?
  • We can get started on it right away.
  • We should be able to complete the work today.
  • Our services are guaranteed unconditionally for 90 days.
  • Don’t forget we offer nationwide warranty coverage.
  • My technicians are especially good at these types of jobs.
  • The technician working on your car is one of my best.
  • It’s your lucky day. My best alignment guy is here, and we just had the alignment machine re-calibrated.

As you confidently assume the sale, you also will be building the customer’s confidence. With this confidence, moving forward, you can ask the most difficult question we ask at the retail sales counter, the question that is make or break, “Were you completely happy with the service we provided today?” If you have the confidence to ask this question over and over each and every day with each and every customer, you are a counter intelligence champion.

I remember when I first entered the sales profession; I was assigned a sales territory in Southern California selling tires, wheels and shock absorbers. I was given a three-ring notebook with names and addresses, a go-get-’em-tiger pep talk and, of course, a quota. I also received some advice from a fellow salesman, “Go ask ‘em what they want and get it to ‘em.” So I did. I learned that the better my questions, the better my sales, and the better my paycheck; discovery and delivery.

Ask questions. Listen carefully. Be confident. And sell, sell, sell. Any questions?   ■

Wayne Williams is president of ExSell Marketing Inc., a “counter intelligence” firm based in La Habra, Calif. He can be reached at

See more of Wayne Williams' articles by clicking:

Customer inquiries: 'How's ZAT sound?'

Questions that drive sales and satisfaction

The impact of plus-sizing on vehicle performance dynamics

Related Articles

How to Deal with Difficult Customers

You must login or register in order to post a comment.