9 Questions Managers Ask That Kill Sales

Become a better sales coach and sales manager today.

If most managers have the best of intentions when supporting their salespeople, then why do they keep asking them questions that result in lost sales?

Do You Emphasize Results Over People?

It’s not uncommon to hear that companies are developing KPI’s and measurable objectives around coaching. While encouraging, sadly, it is doomed from the start unless the manager is actually observing their people perform on a consistent basis.

Why is it doomed, you wonder? Here’s how some managers have responded.

“Okay, I’m supposed to coach each person on my team for one hour each week, based on a list of core competencies and best practices that the company has identified. Let’s see, I actually spoke to each of my salespeople for at least two hours this week, and probably an hour or so last week, since we’ve been doing a bunch of deal reviews and forecasting sessions in order to close this quarter strong. I guess that time can count towards the mandated coaching hours for each direct report. Check!”

A fine example of “Check-box Management.”

Of course, I’m simplifying this to make the lesson clear. Management cannot assume that the quantity of coaching equates to its quality!

Quantity Control

It’s counter-intuitive. Managers believe that in order to achieve your goals and attain quota, keep focusing on the results. “If you stay focused on the results, keep your eyes on the prize and on our sales targets, we will get there faster.” Paradoxically, focusing on the result actually gets in the way of achieving the results you want.


Because if you’re always focusing on the result; you’re not focusing on your people.

Think about the questions you ask during a conversation. Do your questions focus on how your people do things or focus more on what’s been done or getting done? How consistently do you actively observe your people when engaging with customers and prospects on the phone, in person, even how they communicate via email? Are you truly certain of the processes they use, how they communicate and how they perform or are you assuming that based on the reports, results and data?

Think about any coach of a sports team. Without consistent observation of their players, they will miss out on a myriad of authentic coaching opportunities that would build a strong bench of champions.

How You Think Is What You Speak

But it’s not enough just to become more mindful of the “how,” or the process, while focusing on the “what” or the goal that you want to achieve. It has to manifest in how you communicate and engage with people, especially your direct reports.

What does the word ‘process’ means to you? Do you think about your HR process, sales process, onboarding process, project management? Basically, most people would perceive a process as a series of consistent steps you take to produce a somewhat consistent result.

Now, think beyond defining the word, “process” as some measurable steps, path or strategy you follow.

When I suggest becoming more process driven, I’m referring to moving beyond your strategy and into your thinking. Think about how this line of thinking would impact how you communicate. If you become someone who is more process driven, it affects the type and quality of the questions you ask.

Here’s an example of the type of questions that are continually being asked by managers who have a result driven mindset. These questions focus on one thing and one thing only; the outcome.

  1. What are you working on that’s currently in your pipeline?
  2. How many meetings did you schedule this week?
  3. You’re putting everything we need into the CRM, right?
  4. Is your sales forecast accurate?
  5. Did you get in touch with the decision makers, as well as influencers in the company?
  6. How many calls did you make today?
  7. You qualified the prospect to ensure there’s a fit, this is a priority for them and they had budget, right?
  8. If we’re going to put a pilot in place, did you confirm that we are their vender of choice?
  9. Did you demonstrate a solid value proposition that’s aligned with the customer’s needs?

Are these questions important? They most certainly are! However, these questions enable managers to facilitate only half of the conversation you need to have with your salespeople. While these questions certainly focus on results, they are also, for the most part, all closed-ended questions, providing no additional insight into the situations, facts, behavior or what was discussed.

You’re Having Half of a Conversation

Review these nine questions I listed. What are you really learning when you ask your salespeople these questions? You only succeed in uncovering their opinion around what’s been done (yes or no) and not necessarily how it’s been done.

Here’s the real cost incurred when asking these closed ended, result driven questions. The manager assumes their salespeople are emulating the best practices, knowledge and the behavior of world class sales champions – and so do their salespeople!

Where in this conversation are the questions that focus on who they are, what they know, their current skill-set, what their communication sounds like and how they actually do things?

Besides, how would you feel if you were asked these questions? In many cases, you are probably being asked them by your boss! Does it feel empowering or conversely, do some of these questions sound condescending?

Change Your Questions – Change the Outcome

Notice what happens when you become more of a process driven thinker. While these questions are in no particular order, be mindful of the spirit behind each question. Here are some examples of open ended questions that are truly open ended. That is, they don’t have your judgment, agenda or solution baked into them!

  • How have you handled that situation before?
  • What have you tried so far? How did you do that?
  • What is their expectation of exceptional customer service?
  • How does the customer define value and ROI?
  • How did you respond when the customer pushed back on pricing?
  • What steps can you take to resolve that?
  • Walk me through the last conversation you had with that customer.
  • What questions did you ask to qualify this opportunity?
  • What are the titles and names of all the people involved in this decision?
  • What did they tell you their decision making criteria was?
  • What are the top concerns the prospect shared with you that could get in the way of earning their business?
  • How did you confirm that your value proposition was perfectly aligned with their objectives and needs?

These are the questions that salespeople appreciate being asked. While they challenge people to assess and improve how they do things, they do so in a positive, rather than a confrontational way. These questions demonstrate that you actually have an interest in them. It shows that you’re not only focused on the results but on them, as well.

As you can see, beliefs certainly precede experiences. When you become someone who is more process driven, notice what happens to the quality of the questions you ask. Now, you have the power to positively impact the outcome of every conversation.

Sure, you manage data, however you develop people. Besides, if you keep focusing on the result, then nothing changes, including your people.

Alternatively, if you focus on change and growth, the byproduct is, you achieve what you want most; your business objectives, a strong bench of champions and future leaders, and your new competitive edge.

Photo Credit: Nick Wheeler (Edited by Keith Nerdin)