Great Question! (Or is it?)

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Chris White


May 28, 2020


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GREAT QUESTION!... Is this a GOOD thing or BAD thing to say during a demo?

My opinion? YES! It can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the context. Allow me to explain…

“Great Question” is one of the things not to say during a demo. And I agree. Responding to every question in this manner begins to feel disingenuous. I know this firsthand. In fact, I think this story may be in the book. I was invited to do a demo (in York, PA I believe), and it was a long demo with a reasonably good sized crowd. It was myself and two sales colleagues. I was the only SE in the room. We had a fairly lengthy agenda and went about 3-hours. (That alone was a mistake, but I’ll save that for another article.)

During the long demo I was asked numerous questions, to which I responded with “Great question” or “Good question” almost every time. It got to the point in which the audience was almost making fun of me. “Let me guess, good question”, one of them said with more than a hint of sarcasm. At that point, I DID get the point. But by then, it was too late. To them, it already felt disingenuous – clearly.

It turns out that we did manage to close that deal and win the business. A few months later I had the opportunity to speak to one of the leaders in the room that day. She confided that yes, it was becoming a bit of an inside joke how many times I said ‘Good Question’, and it that it had reached the point where it came off insincere. Lesson learned.

That was over a decade ago. I’ve long since refined my thinking about how questions received during a demo should be handled. I have a very precise model for how to respond to questions – especially the tough ones. The model is a set of rules that I follow, and I encourage the people that I work with to follow as well. Here are those rules.

When I get a question during a demo I simply follow these steps:

  • Step #1 – Acknowledge the question and the person asking the question
  • Step #2 – Repeat the question
  • Step #3 – Assess the question and the person who has asked the question and respond accordingly

These three steps will be addressed in a three-part series of articles on how best to answer questions. This is the first - Step #1.

Acknowledge the question and acknowledge the person asking the question. Does this mean say “Great Question” every time? Clearly not. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater on this. Repeating the same response every time is NOT good practice. But showing respect for the individual and appreciation for the question is. A big part of sales is building rapport. Simply put, people are far more inclined to buy from people they like. And everyone wants to be acknowledged, recognized.

So as a best practice, when someone asks a question acknowledge it but use different and varying terminology in doing so. “Good question” is OK – once in a while. But mix it up. Here are some responses I like:

  • “Glad you asked”
  • “Interesting question”
  • “I like where you’re going with that question (or that line of thinking)”
  • “It’s an important question you just asked, allow me to elaborate”
  • “Wow. I’m not sure I’ve ever been asked that question” or “Not sure I’ve ever been asked in quite that way before” (this may be my all-time favorite)

You may find yourself saying, ‘Sounds to me like you’re trying to butter them up.’ And I suppose to some degree, yes I am – but not in a manipulative way. Please understand me clearly. Am I suggesting that you respond in such a way that attempts to make the individual feel good about themselves and their question? Yes I am! Am I suggesting this as a manipulative tactic. No I am not. This is my approach because it’s the right thing to do – to treat people with respect and courtesy, especially in a sales conversation. And yes, it will also help you close the business – which is the reason we’re there to begin with.

Point is, not only do we need to mix up our responses, but they need to be sincere. If a question really isn’t a particularly good question, I’m not telling you to say it is. Quite the contrary, if it’s actually not a good question, there are still ways to acknowledge the question without calling it something it’s not. Allow me to give you an example… Someone asks a question that probably seems obvious to everyone in the room. My response might be “Wow. Glad you asked. I was hoping that I would have made that clear at this point in the conversation, but if I didn’t, that’s on me. I’ll be happy to clarify that point.” And by the way, they might not be the only person in the room who still isn’t clear on that point. And if they are, at the very least, they will appreciate your honesty and patience.

We still haven't addressed the second part of step 1 which is to acknowledge the person who asked the question. And how do we do this? Simple. Refer to them by name. What’s the one word that we all love hearing the most? You already know the answer.

You may be asking yourself how can I possibly keep track of and remember everyone’s name? Again, not to oversimplify, but write them down. Literally. When I go into a meeting with my sales counterpart – even if I’m doing the meeting alone – as we go around the room to do introductions, I quite literally have my notebook out, pen in hand, and I quick jot everyone’s name down and a note or two about their role and/or responsibility. So then when they ask a question, I can respond to them by name. And if I have to glance down at my notebook to do so, I do! In fact, I’ll even reference one of my notes if it's applicable.

Allow me to share an example. Someone asks a question. This is quite literally my cadence: “Glad you asked” – glance down at my notebook, then look back up – “Bob – it is Bob right?” (Bob: “Yes. Thanks.”) “It’s an important question you've asked. If I recall, you said you're responsible for the data warehouse team. So I can see the perspective you’re coming from with that question...”

In just a couple of seconds, what I have just done there? I’ve acknowledged the question – he feels good about that. I’ve acknowledged him – called him by name. He now knows that he was important enough to be remembered by name. AND I mentioned something about his role, which shows that I was actually paying attention to what was being said during introductions – which now builds rapport and credibility with the entire room, in addition, of course, to Bob. And I did this all in just seconds. It’s powerful. And I must emphasize. This is not intended to be used as a manipulation. It’s just good practice. It's just being a good person and treating others with respect.

So the next time you're asked a question during a demo, should you respond with "Great Question"? You be the judge. Maybe. Maybe not. Whatever your response, first be sure to acknowledge the question and the person asking the question, with sincere appreciation for the question and authentic respect for the person.

Look for Part 2 in this series of three articles on how best to answer questions during a sales demonstration in which I address the importance of repeating the question and why there is no such thing as a bad question.

Chris White is the Author of 'The Six Habits of Highly Effective Sales Engineers' and the Managing Director of Demo Doctor.

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