3 Tips For Handling Tough Sales Questions

tough sales questions

The way that a seller handles tough sales questions has a major impact on their credibility and professional image. While even the most successful reps are still caught off guard, it’s how they respond that sets them apart. By using a basic methodology in these situations, sellers can gracefully manage themselves and their responses.

Three ways to handle tough sales questions

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Allison Shapira shares advice for when professionals are faced with tricky questions. Her very first suggestion is to always prepare. While you likely won’t always guess what will be asked, you can usually make some good guesses based on the scenario. Then, prepare as necessary. For example, if you’ve struggled with meeting quotas and you’re heading into a one-​on-​one with your manager, you can assume they will be asking about your numbers. Or, before a presentation with a prospect, you can expect questions about price to be a part of the conversation. Brainstorm the different things that may spring to your audience’s mind and come up with responses for different types of questions they could ask. 

If you need some help, Shapira suggests reaching out to others who are familiar with the situation, client or prospect. It can be especially helpful to your team. “The responses don’t need to be memorized,” she explains, “but you should be able to recall them as a result of your practice.” And make sure your answers are authentic and truthful. Preparing beforehand gives you the opportunity to give intelligent responses and have data or examples prepared to back them up. 

Pause and breathe

When caught off guard by tough sales questions, it’s easy to panic. It’s natural to want to answer quickly, but doing so can lead to rambling and fumbling. This can quickly jeopardize your credibility. Instead of immediately blurting out a response, take a moment to breathe and gather your thoughts. This will give you some time to think back to your prepared responses and give a thoughtful answer. And as Shapira notes, “It’s an acceptable break that gives you a few much-​needed seconds to think about your answer and ensure that your emotions don’t control you.” As SalesFuel has pointed out, “If maintaining emotional control may be an issue for you, consider prepping for tough talks by role-​playing. Doing so can help you practice maintaining professionalism and responding appropriately even when emotions are high.”

Be empathetic and honest

Even if you don’t have the response the other person hopes for, you can show that you care by expressing empathy and honesty. Show them that the question is valid and you understand why they asked. This can strengthen the connection and also demonstrate that you value them. Acknowledge the language and use empathetic response, such as the examples Shapira recommends: 

That’s a critical question, thank you for asking.”

If I were in your shoes, I would be asking the exact same question.”

And avoid using the cliched, “That’s a great question.” It’s overused and considered by many to be a stalling tactic. Tap into your emotional intelligence to gauge how the other person is feeling and use those cues to personalize your response. (For tips on how to boost this soft skill, check out SalesFuel’s professional advice). 

Tough sales questions are always going to be part of the job. But sellers can prepare and be ready. By being proactive, they can handle themselves professionally and thoughtfully while keeping their credibility intact and safeguarding their relationship with the other person.

Photo by Edmond Dantès

Jessica Helinski

Jessica Helinski

Jessica reports on sales tips and credibility for SalesFuel. She is a graduate of Ohio University.