The 5 Worst Tele-Prospecting Questions – Are You Guilty?

Questioning a prospect is a good thing, right?

Questioning builds rapport, uncovers needs, gathers information, and identifies possible objections.  There are lots of benefits.

Or so it would seem.

But the truth of the matter is that there are some questions that telephone users should utterly avoid.  They annoy your prospects and they can threaten the success of your call. Here are the four most maddening questions of all time. Purge them from your calling process.

Worst Question #1: How are you today?

Nothing, absolutely nothing, puts a prospect on the defensive faster than this question!

While YOU might think it’s a real rapport builder the vast majority of your prospects think just the opposite.  When surveyed well over 90% of prospects felt that the question is trite and insincere.  They found it ‘wastes time’  but perhaps more significantly, it puts them on their guard because it creates a stereotypical (and negative) image of an invasive “telemarketer” who is trying to sell them something.

Look, the bottom line is this: you don’t really care how the prospect is, do you? You want a sale, lead or an appointment. And they KNOW that.  They know you don’t care. They know it’s a filler question.

So why would you use it?

It buys you absolutely nothing and it may cost you a lot. It may tarnish your ‘professional’ image.

Worst Question #2:  Did I catch you at a good time?

This question is a real sales killer. Hands down.

While asking a prospect ‘is now is a good time’ is polite and considerate, what it really does is provide a ready-made excuse to terminate the call.  Picture the scene: how many times have you asked that question and the prospect says, ‘Ya, sure…It’s a great time! I wasn’t doing anything important. In fact, I was just sitting here with my feet on the desk hoping that a sales rep would give me a call and pitch me?”

Rarely happens, right?

Of course, some prospects do say yes but the majority don’t.  At the moment they say ‘no’ you flounder and stumble around a bit and murmur something about calling later or ‘when is a good time.’  If the prospect does give you a time, they are never there when you make your follow up call. Waste of everyone’s time and energy.

I am all for polite and courteous tele-prospecting.  But instead of putting your call in the chopping block, try this,  “_____, If I have caught you at a good time what I would like to do is ask you a few questions, get a feel for you situation and see if there might be a way …(insert your benefit).’

Positioned this way, the client gets a feel or a sense that you have been polite about the ‘time’ thing but you are not really asking about the time; you’re asking about questions.  If you move seamlessly into your first question, your client will likely answer.

This subtle but extremely effective technique can dramatically change your contact rate and help you convert more contacts to sales or leads.  Use it.

Worst Question #3:  What do you like about your current supplier?

OMG! What a ridiculous question!

In effect, here’s what you are saying to the prospect, “Tell all the great things about your current vendor so that you will convince yourself not to make a change.  Remind yourself why you made this brilliant choice in the first place so that you can pat yourself on the back.”

Forgive the sarcasm.  But this question is definitely maddening. It does nothing to help your selling cause. It builds your competitor up and because the prospect is articulating their merits it’ll be awfully hard to knock them down.

Instead, ask the prospect what they like to see in a vendor.  Let the prospect tell you about the ideal service they would like to get.  See how you compare. Don’t even bother with the current competitor. Who cares? It’s not what they do, it’s what YOU do.

Worst Question #4: Is there anything you don’t like about your current vendor?

Think about this one for a moment. The prospect doesn’t know you from Adam or Eve and out of the blue you are asking him/her to divulge the faults and flaws of your competitor.  How often do you think that’s going to work?

It’s not.

Sure, if you get lucky you might find a flawed vendor and an annoyed prospect.  Even a blind squirrel finds a nut.  But in the vast majority of the calls you make, this question will get you a blunt “no.” Like Maddening Question #3, the prospect is reminded that there’s nothing wrong with their current supplier or, at best, better the devil they know then the devil they don’t. Net result? Resistance to change.

Stick with what they’d like to see in a vendor.  Determine what elements are the most important (price, delivery, selection, terms etc.)  Create a general question like, “Are you getting all those elements all the time?” Ask if they’ve ever been caught short? Ask what they do if there’s a delay or if a product is unavailable? Ask if they have a back up plan?

These questions can open doors, not close them.

Worst Question #5: what do I have to do to earn your business?

And finally…

This maddening question has been around for decades and has been driving your prospect nuts for just as long. In their mind what you are really saying is this, “Make this easy for me because I don’t really want to work at it. Tell me what you want so I don’t have to probe and find out.”

Prospects resent this. It’s lazy. And those that give you an answer often give you ridiculous answers like, “I want free shipping on every order over ten bucks…and oh…I want 120 days… oh… forget the days, how about consignment?”

Look, if you don’t know how to probe for needs, start learning now!


Questions can work for you or against you.  Think about your questions before you ask!

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