Virtual Selling: Are You Spending Your Question Allowance Wisely?

White chocolate. It was my favorite sweet treat as a kid… and it still is. In the summer I usually managed my meager allowance pretty well (even saving a little) and would look forward to going to the drug store down the street and indulging myself in pure delight once or twice a week. But I remember one week in particular when I was 12… I couldn’t treat myself to my weekly bit of chocolaty goodness because I blew my allowance on video games.  


Apparently, earlier in the week my competitive juices got flowing a little too strongly trying to get my initials on the board of “Asteroids” at the bowling alley.  As a result, I suffered all week without anything left of my allowance.

Have you ever made the same mistake with your question allowance from customers in this virtual selling world we now live in?


Earn a Bigger Question Allowance

You know the four steps in the sales process:  Introduction, Questions, Recommendations, and Commitment.  These are the generic terms, but ASLAN refers to the process as Engage, Discovery, Build Value and Advance. 

If you have been awake during any sales training recently, you know that these steps make-up the generally accepted sales communication process. Getting past the introduction stage and talking to a decision-maker can be difficult, yes; but it’s only then that the real challenge begins.  


A prospect does not want to waste time by answering your questions – they just want to know what you do, and they’ll decide if/when they will be able to use you now or in the future. As a result, you usually only get a question allowance of 2-3 questions.  This allowance refers to the number of questions that you can ask before the prospect starts to lose interest, shorten their answers to one or two words, and begin looking for an opportunity to politely end the call.  

Why do you get a small allowance? Because they assume that you are like every other salesperson who calls, not knowing anything about their business, and cares more about making a sale than serving them.  If you don’t do something to make your question allowance bigger, your sales calls will come to an end halfway through the questioning stage: 

“I’m sorry, Marc, I have to go. Shoot me an email, and we can reconnect next week.”


Why? Because we only had a small question allowance and we didn’t spend it wisely.

Successful reps raise their allowance to 10-15 questions by communicating to the customer that they already know a few things about their business/industry, and by sincerely demonstrating that they are Other-Centered® – having a true desire to serve them.


Spend Your Allowance Wisely

Once you use up your question allowance, the call is over. They aren’t interested in continuing to talk, you don’t have enough information to build value in a meaningful solution, and you probably will never “reconnect” like they promised.  (Believe it or not, sometimes customers don’t always tell the truth!)


KEY PRINCIPLE: The questions you ask and how you ask them will determine your success in learning about a customer’s needs and how you can serve them.


This has happened to all of us. You hang up the phone, and have the same frustrated feeling you get when watching an action-packed On-Demand movie, only to be left hanging on the edge of your couch when your satellite dish is “acquiring the signal”  –  which takes two hours after the storm passes.  


Or worse, you are reviewing prospects with your manager and she asks you a question about a particular customer,  “Which of our competitors are they using now?” or “How many units do they use per month?”  You can’t say, “I don’t know.” 


So you struggle with the best way to respond with, “Uh, I think they use _____, but I’m not sure.”  Those are simple questions, and you should know the answer, but you don’t. The reason you don’t know is because you blew your question allowance. 


Small Allowance & Wasted

  • You start by telling them “I don’t know much about your company” or by asking them to do your work for you and tell you everything… wasting their time.
  • Your questions are low-level qualifying questions that you could/should have learned somewhere else.
  • You barrage the customer with a continuous stream of unconnected questions you prepared beforehand – making it seem like an interrogation or contrived survey (vs. a real conversation).
  • As soon as the customer shows an interest in one of your products or services, you start selling like the guy pushing the tray full of peanuts and popcorn in the stands at the ball game.


Bigger Allowance & Used Wisely

  • When you start Discovery, you briefly demonstrate your credibility in the industry by communicating what you know about the situation/customer, all the while getting them to expand.
  • Your questions focus at a high-level, such as strategy or their future business objectives.
  • The meeting seems conversational because your follow-up questions connect to their answer from the previous question and help them clarify their thoughts for you and themselves.
  • When the customer expresses an interest very early in the conversation, you resist the temptation to do an unqualified product dump. Instead, you let them know you’d like to talk about your solution, but want to ask a couple more questions to help make it relevant to their needs.


Assess Yourself

How do you know if you are getting the allowance you should and spending it wisely? If you are crushing your quota and making too much money, you are probably OK. Otherwise, you may be able to improve your results by looking at your results when talking with customers. Think about the calls where the customer says “I only have a few minutes,” and then 30 minutes later, they are still telling you what’s going on in their organization. This is a sign you’ve done well.  


When that doesn’t happen, you can learn from your experience. The question allowance that the decision-maker grants you depends on several factors. Some are out of your control, such as the current environment (phone vs. in-person), schedule, and distractions.  However, you have influence over the rest.  Think about your recent sales conversations, with particular focus on the questioning stage, and see if you are being a smart spender with your allowance.


Go Forth… Earn a Big Question Allowance & Spend Wisely

On your next call with a decision-maker, keep these three key rules in mind:

Do your basic research and qualify beforehand.  

Start with questions around their priorities – or areas of pain that you uncovered. 

Focus on high-level, open-ended questions that only the decision-maker can answer.


Don’t always just stick to your script. Preparing some questions is a good idea, but don’t ask them one after the other. Instead, work on making it conversational by asking the customer to clarify their previous answer:

“Interesting, can you tell me more?” or ”Why do you think that is?” or “Specifically, what is it about _______?”


Do not begin selling until you fully understand the customer’s situation and his/her perspective.  You may have heard me refer to this as “Take the Trip®” When you go to make your recommendation, it better be the right one, and should somehow be connected to a top priority of theirs, something on their whiteboard. If you make a pitch too early, it will likely be for the wrong solution… which will ultimately end your meeting and potentially the relationship. Good luck on your sales calls. 

Now I’m going to go spend some of my commission on about a quarter pound of white chocolate.


Ready for More?

If your team is struggling to make the transition to virtual selling, be sure to check out our new program.

We would be happy to understand your challenges and see if we can help.  We started as an inside sales training company in 1996 and the challenges we faced then are in many ways the same as those we all face today.

As VP of Solutions, Sean’s passion is developing and creating a learning experience that emotionally taps into each learner, matches ASLAN’s commitment to excellence, and exceeds our client’s wildest expectations. Find him on: LinkedIn.

Leave a Comment


The best way to get to know us is to know what we value. If we teach it we live it, because what we do speaks far more eloquently than what we say. We’ll always choose people over profits, and we’re most fulfilled and effective when we serve. It drives our culture, frames our training programs and transforms the lives of the clients we partner with.