If They Don’t Want to Go There

In which we discuss what to do if a client doesn't want to answer questions about details. Last week, we suggested... "When we're selling products or processes that improve our clients' operations (from cash management to document processing to any number of industrial products)....

we find [the value we can help them generate] by asking about their processes – input events, key processes, outputs, enabling technology, manual steps, and down time during which no work is performed.”

A reader wrote back, “What if they don’t want to answer those detailed questions and they close down the conversation?” Great question. Some thoughts.

First: Think about why they might be closing down. Possible reasons for not wanting to answer the detailed questions:

  • Someone else handles these details.
  • They’re busy with other things that are more important.
  • They thought the meeting would focus on something else.
  • They’re tired.
  • Their teenager just called with important news.
  • They’re upset by the Doha trade talks.
  • Their tummies reacted badly to breakfast.

In other words, at the moment of impact, it’s not clear. So, when in doubt, ask a question.

Suppose we’re talking to a customer or prospect who agreed to meet with us, we thought, to talk about processing costs and cycle times. We’re working through a “help me understand the details” conversation. Our prospect/customer is not engaged. We might ask:

Us: “I’m having the sense that this discussion isn’t working for you. Is that right?”

Them: “Yes, that’s right.


  • Option 1: “Ah, sorry. My purpose was to look for ways to reduce cycle times and costs. [reposition the benefit] Would you prefer to focus on this topic in a different way? Or focus on another topic?”
  • Option 2: “Ah, sorry. We’ve been focused on processing cycle times and costs. Is that still a good focus for us this afternoon?

Now, if a prospect/client really doesn’t want to talk (and I had a seller tell me last week that a prospect asked her, “why are you asking all of these questions, I don’t want to discuss them”), you might be stuck. But, before we conclude that, we can ask a more general question, like:

Us: “I’m hearing this isn’t productive discussion. Would you like to change gears? What are your top two or three processing priorities at this point? What processing challenges do you want to address in the near term?”

If this doesn’t work, ask about the fish on the wall.

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