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“I Don’t Know.” – A Great Answer

By June 26, 2010July 15th, 2018Develop Relationships, Differentiation

Here’s my contention:  Finding yourself frequently acknowledging, “I don’t know,” is a signal that you have become a superior sales rep.


Before you conclude I’ve finally lost it completely, allow me to note that I’m not referring to situations where the question is about your products or services.  Those answers, you need to have.  Customers will give you a pass for the occasional lapse, but they are insanely busy and will not long tolerate a sales rep who regularly burns time due to lack of knowledge about his or her own offerings.

I’m talking about situations where the customer is posing questions regarding some complexly thorny issue.  Something needs to be done, but there’s no precedent.  There’s no obvious way to get started and nobody seems to have any ideas.  Even the amazing you is clueless.

But the amazing you will take a crack at it.

Doesn’t matter if the problem is outside your range of responsibility.  Doesn’t even matter if the problem is unrelated to your products and services.  Your objective is not a quick sale – like the 87 other sales reps who called that day.  Your objective is to establish a reputation as one who “just might be able to lend a hand.”

Get in the habit of asking the following question in every sales call:

What is the single toughest problem someone in your company is wrestling with today?

Then follow-up.  Do a little research.  Send a quick e-mail with an idea and/or suggestion and/or link when you find something.  Keep track of all the “toughest problems.”  You’ll find them repeated in company after company and therefore be able to lend that hand more quickly.

You’ll wind up with a network of contacts extending into all kinds of nooks and crannies, well beyond the networks of mere mortal reps.  You’ll become a business resource, not just another rep.  Over time you’ll find people coming to you – you’ll have “pull.”

When you find yourself regularly answering, “I don’t know,” to questions about really hairy, ugly business issues, you’ll know you’ve made it.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Todd Schnick says:

    And particularly powerful to follow-up an “I don’t know” with a personalized video explaining the answer following your meeting.

    Saying “I don’t know” shows leadership and courage. Most are afraid to do so.

    Seeking – and finding – the answer is what lands you the gig…

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