Word choice is extremely important if you want to succeed at sales. Prepare your questions in advance and then scrutinize them to ensure they are clear, succinct, and non-threatening.

Here is an example of a question salespeople ask a lot, but they use the wrong words:

  • Are you the decision-maker?

Here are a few more examples of how NOT to ask this question:

  • Are you the one making the decision?
  • Who is making the decision?
  • Who else is making the decision?
  • Will you be making the final decision?

Why is asking this question with these words wrong? In most cases, the answer you receive from your contact is either "yes" or "I am." In both cases, there is a lot of room for misinterpretation because information is either omitted by your contact and/or assumed by you.

When a contact (who is not the decision-maker) responds to "Are you the decision-maker?" with either "yes" or "I am," here's what he really means:

  • I will be the one collecting the information from the different vendors and submitting them to my boss.
  • I will select three proposals from all who submitted and send them to my boss, who will make the final decision.
  • I will not participate in any way with the decision, but I don't want you to know that.
  • I will be involved during the decision-making meetings, but will have little or no input in the decision.

So, why would a contact that is not the decision-maker lead you to believe he has more decision-making status than is actually the case? Because people want to be important. Not assuming that there is a sinister motive, here are several reasons why:

  • I do not want to be perceived as irrelevant.
  • I want to control as much information as possible.
  • I want to appear important to my boss.
  • I enjoy the feeling of salespeople accommodating me.
  • I enjoy the status of being involved with important decisions.
  • I want to do a good job by reducing the amount of detailed work for my boss.

A better way to ask the question is this way:

"Who else is participating with you in making this decision?"

Phrasing the question this way makes your contact feel included in the decision-making process. It does not alienate him and compel him to omit information or give a false impression--it does not threaten his need to be important.

The language assumes that your contact will (in some way) be involved in the decision--even if that means he simply passes your name or proposal along to the boss. It means he is free to tell you who is making the decision--and save face.

Contacts are far more comfortable sharing information if there is no threat that you will brush them to the side for more important people.

Again, word choice is vital to sales success. Always write your questions in advance of a sales call whenever possible and edit them for clarity and inclusiveness.