Salespeople often ask multiple questions in one run-on sentence. Here’s why and how to stop.

A sales manager I worked with called the habit of asking multiple questions in one run-on sentence “nervous mouth.”

It drove him crazy when he observed sales reps ask two or more questions in a row rather than asking them one at a time.

Usually, the prospect would only answer the last question asked, leaving other presumably important questions unanswered.

This questioning misstep is not limited to salespeople. I often hear folks on podcasts, TV and YouTube cram several questions together during an interview instead of asking them one by one.

Why does this happen? What are the causes?

Fear of losing control

Some people are afraid that they won’t get another chance to speak, so they use their opportunity to speak to cram in as many questions as they can.

This forces the other people to try to remember and answer each of the questions, which turns a natural conversation into a stressful memory challenge for the other party. They rarely do, so you now need to repeat your questions in order to get them answered.

Ironically, your attempt to maintain control, has actually caused you to lose it.

Fear of forgetting

How many times have you thought of a good question, only to later forget it? This happens to all of us, but it can happen a lot less often if you have prepared a questioning plan in advance.

Doing so will enable you to relax and focus on the conversation without becoming overwhelmed trying to remember all of the questions you need answered. It is much easier to remember one question than ten.

Fear of being misunderstood

When someone strings one or more questions together after the initial question, it is to clarify question #1.

The trailing question is usually preceded with “What I mean by that is……” and they then ask the question a different way.

The fear of being misunderstood motivates the salesperson to ask multiple questions in their desire to be understood.

Fear of silence

This is why my colleague referred to this habit as “nervous mouth.” The silence that follows asking a good question may be too difficult for some salespeople to endure, so one or more additional questions tumble out before receiving a response to the first question.

Fear of an unwanted answer

Some questions may result in a reply that we do not want to hear or expect to hear. Anything unwanted or unexpected usually causes fear. In anticipation of this anxiety, a question is followed up with an immediate “Or is it…..?” with the hope of hearing what we want and expect to hear.

Asking questions one at a time allows you to understand your prospect’s challenges in a way that is both meaningful and thoughtful to them.

Stephen R. Covey wrote “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Asking multiple questions in a row can confuse a sales prospect. This makes it difficult to understand how you can best serve them. Here are a few tips to keep focused on asking questions one at a time:

1) Write down the questions that you plan to ask in advance of your meeting.

It is acceptable to refer to your notes during your meeting. Either use the notes app on your smartphone/tablet or write down the questions on paper with enough space to record the prospect’s replies. This helps keep you on track during your meeting.
Also, it is OK to make a statement first (such as an observation) and then follow it up with a question.

2) Practice asking them with your sales manager.

Preparation for the unexpected will lessen the likelihood of asking similar, irrelevant, or inappropriate questions. It also demonstrates to your prospect that you have spent time thinking about the questions you came to ask and the order in which you ask them.

3) Review the meeting agenda with your prospect so they give you permission to ask them questions.

Your objectives for the call should always be planned in advance. So should the the questions that need to be answered. The agenda review at the beginning of the sales call goes a long way in stopping “nervous mouth.”

Be aware of this common “sales tic” & practice asking one question at a time. Your prospects will be more engaged which leads to greater sales effectiveness.

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