Three Inquiries to Improve and Impart Insight

By / 8 months ago

The Salesman in my office was baffled. His eyes dilated, unflinching. His face slack jawed to the extent I saw his adenoids. Slowly his mouth re-formed as he began to answer.

“Uh, what do you mean, ‘So what?’ It’s plastic. The base of the cabinet is plastic. No one else makes a sink base cabinet with a plastic base. It’s unique in the market. It won’t grow mold. It won’t peel. It’ll support hundreds of pounds of cleaning products.”

I get it, I explained. When leaks occur under the sink, the cheap fiber board covered in wood-paneled paper soaks it up, causing mold, rot, and if the homeowner complains enough—a new sink base. I get it.

“If you understand that,” he began, searching for the magic sequence of words, which once identified and articulated, would surely result in a sale. “Why…aren’t you as excited as I am about this new product?”

He looked genuinely disappointed. He expected me to buy his vision—or buy a ton of plasticized sink base cabinets. And now, because I liked him—as a person and as a salesperson—I was going to be very direct.

“Why? Three reasons. First, it’s more expensive. Nobody gets a high-five around here for increasing house cost. Second, it’s plastic. When the sales department hears it’s plastic, they’ll say plastic is cheap. Homeowners like mahogany, stainless steel and granite. Not plastic. And third, if I point out its value—a hedge against sink leaks—I’ll have to explain why I hire plumbers that install leaky pipes. And then I’ll be fired.”

“Oh.” the salesman said, dejected. It didn’t have to be this way…

Answering three simple questions will improve the clarity, communication, and ultimate acceptance of your business insights. That is, more sales.

These three questions only require five words: What? So what? and Now what?

This is the idea or insight or solution (a plastic sink base, perhaps?) that deserves the scarcest of resources these days: attention in our A.D.D. world.

As a Purchasing Manager, many lumberyard salespeople I met with were wading in the river of ideas, which happened to be a mile wide and an inch deep. They had plenty of ideas. They could monologue at will. However, when questioned in detail—a lack of depth was revealed.

So What?
Answering this question demonstrates the potential impact and size of the opportunity. The best salespeople ask questions designed to illustrate both the Professional and the Personal Win for the person sitting behind the desk.

There are always two potential wins—or losses—in play: the impact on the business (professional) and the individual (personal) responsible for next steps. Both must be considered and addressed. Risk must be evaluated and defined in terms of the business and personal setting. Documenting the switching costs is helpful too.

Now What?
With What? and So what? answered, now a thoughtful recommendation is made. An if/then statement is articulated. If you do this, as I recommend, you can then expect this to happen. You don’t need to be Einstein or Bob Ross, but you should be able to use a white board to annotate the math involved or draw a rudimentary picture. Purchasing persuasion is rare with words alone.

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Bradley Hartmann

Bradley Hartmann is El Presidente at Red Angle, Inc. and the author of Behind Your Back. To learn more, contact him at, or visit