Robert Bell: That's a Dumb Question

advice from optical sales consultant Robert Bell

How keeping it simple is a game-changing sales strategy

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 edition of INVISION.

Not sure if you know this about me, but I am royalty. OK sure, I’m self-appointed royalty, but royalty all the same. For I am the king of dumb questions! Bow before me, you sales peasants. Muuhahahahaha!

In a world in which everyone is trying to outthink everyone else, why would I claim to be something so seemingly stupid? It’s quite simple: dumb questions get smart answers. When you ask dumb questions, people make an extra effort to help you understand their responses. When you’re in sales — and you are — nothing is more important than understanding your customers’ needs.

Guess what else happens when you ask dumb questions? People become less defensive when they hear seemingly simple questions. They let their guards down, and establishing trust gets that much easier.

Before I share the dumb questions you should be asking, let me give you a heads-up. Many of you will read these questions and roll your eyes or give a snooty “harumph.” Others might think, “Wow, he wasn’t kidding when he said these were dumb.” But here’s the thing: Until you ask the questions, you don’t know the answers. You may assume you do but, trust me, you don’t. Ask the questions. Wait. Listen carefully for the answers.

Last month, I gave you a homework assignment: Develop a list of “pain questions” for each product you sell based on how a patient uses their eyes in particular situations.

This is how it works: Ask the pain question (such as “When you’re driving directly into sunlight, do you find it hard to drive?” or “Do you ever find yourself taking your glasses on and off when you’re trying to read?”) then follow up with four very simple questions. Each question gently moves the customer toward the negative arc of the pendulum.

Ask the questions.
Wait. Listen carefully
for the answers.

(Remember the pendulum? We’ve learned in the past few months why moving patients toward the negative side of the pendulum is how you get them to swing in the positive direction, with velocity — and how it trumps trying to educate them into buying.)

So, here are the four dumb follow-up questions:

1. How often does that happen? (We need to know occurrence.)

2. When it happens, does it bother you? (Patients begin to focus on their own pain or annoyance.)

3. OK, and how much does that bother you? (How much pain are they in? How much does it hurt?)

4. Would you like to me to help you with that? (Would you like me to make the pain go away?)

All of these questions are important, but understand that question No. 4 is the bomb! Once you hear “yes,” the pendulum swings, in one fell swoop, to positive! Bang! It’s a beautiful thing to watch. You’re asking them for permission to “educate” them which means they’re in control. Well, they think they’re in control, but the person asking the questions controls the direction of the conversation.

Do you know what a person’s favorite subject is? Yep, themselves. When you try to educate them (make a presentation) before you ask these questions, you deny them the opportunity to talk about themselves. Without that information, how can you satisfy their needs? Well?

By the way, do you know what else is happening here? Review the questions again. Do you see any room in here for the patient to ask about price or whether their insurance covers it? Price and insurance coverage play a role, but they become a lot less central to the discussion because you’ve now changed how this game is played — in your favor.

You did it gently. You did it with their cooperation. You actually have them focusing on their visual needs above all else. Well, why not? You’re their eyecare professional — and because you’ve swung them in your direction, now you can make your presentation. How? Stay tuned.

Robert Bell believes in “uncommon sense,” inside-out thinking and challenging the status quo of traditional selling methods. He created the EyeCoach Selling System specifically for ECPs. He is also co-director for Project Homeless Connect-Vision Volunteers in San Francisco. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..