My husband and I went car shopping the other day. Why, you ask? Well, it’s funny that YOU ask, because not one of the car salesmen on any of the lots we went to did. As it happens, we are in the market for a mini-van because we are expecting ANOTHER set of twins in April. And the utterly dismal performance by each and every salesperson we encountered got me thinking about—and criticizing—their approaches.

One of the fundamentals of sales is the concept of asking open-ended questions to get the most useful information out of someone you are trying to forge a relationship with. These are typically the five W’s and an H that we learned back in grade school—the “who, what, where, when, why and how” questions.

Not only did the sales reps NOT ask very many questions, but the way they asked them was very counterproductive. Here’s another bad example. “Do you care about DVD players at all?” How about, “How important is having a DVD player in your new car to you?” See the difference?

So here is my recommended version of how our interactions should have gone:

How can I help you folks today?

Well, we are in the market for a used mini-van.

Great! Why are you shopping for a minivan today?

We are expecting a set of twins in April.

Congratulations! Do you have any other kids? How old are they?

Yes—we have two girls that will be three in February.

WOW! So you’ll definitely need a six-seat vehicle that can accommodate four car seats. Am I right about that?


Our best-selling and highest-rated vehicle that fits that bill is the Honda Odyssey. Would you like to come take a seat so we can talk more about options, price range, your time frame, and purchase, lease and financing options?

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  • Kathy Uhlenbrock

    Great reminder on the "why" and congratulations on the twins!

  • Shirley A Burns

    Is the scenario fully true-to-life? If so, congrats! Wow!

  • Mary Beth Smith

    Congrats, Kelli – you sure know how to take a simple concept like ‘twins’ and turn it on its ear!! This is gonna be fun!! :) :)

    And…thank you for a great reminder. I had this conversation with a new sales rep this afternoon while helping her prep for a discovery meeting. I think a few things factor into a reluctance to ask "why" when prospecting, particularly for newbies. For one thing, you’re so giddy with the idea that someone actually wants to talk to you that you’re afraid of anything that might put them off. "Why" is a challenge, and as such, one of the most important parts of qualifying prospects. If you want to really understand your customers and their real needs, you MUST learn to have them defend their statements. If for no other reason, it forces them to think about what they’re saying and self-correct. Another reason people hesitate to ask ‘why’ is they simply fear looking like they don’t know what they’re doing.

    BTW – we have a surprise natal event occurring in our family this spring also. My 10 yr old grandson and his 13 yr old sister will be welcoming a baby brother in May. Now that their parents are over the SHOCK, we should have a great time preparing…and shopping for their 2nd Odyssey – LOL

    :) mb

  • PrintingChicago

    Good lesson, Kelly! Reminds me of a car salesman I encountered last summer. Without ever asking WHAT features I had to have in an SUV, he told me 5 times that the vehicle was "blue tooth enabled" and that a video player could be easily added. Bluetooth and video were exactly what I didn’t want. I bought elsewhere, of course. Congrats on the growing family! At least you’ve already got a twin stroller ;D

  • Kelly Mallozzi

    There is another really interesting conversation happening on this topic over on Linked In in the Print Industry networking Group – check it out! One reader asks – does anyone have any recent real live examples of a Why question you asked and what the outcome was – ANYONE?