“Hi, can I ask you a question?” said a friendly, normal-looking woman in her 50s. I stood at a red light, headed toward my car after yoga.
Please just ask where I got my pants so I can leave, I thought.
It was not to be.
“We’re running a promotion…” Blah, blah, blah. She told me about a Beverly Hills nail salon offering a 90 percent reduction on monthly memberships.
“Ah…” I searched for an escape. But she handed me a verbal roadmap to salvation: “Are you local?”
Sparklers ignited in my brain. No, I thought. I am not local. Suddenly, my home was any remotely plausible nook of the country. Nay, the world!
“I’m visiting from New York,” I said without hesitation. Why answer honestly if a lie gets me home free?
From then on, I felt like Houdini escaping a locked trunk. All I had to do was take a bow. “I’m only here for a couple more days” was the natural follow up to her panicky, “How long are you around?”
Before I knew it, I was halfway across the street, zero dollars spent.
Much like hubris is the downfall of many a tragic hero, talking too much is the kiss of death in sales. Although I spared you her monologue, trust me, she babbled.
As Voss puts it, “the talker is revealing information while the listener…is directing the conversation toward his own goals. He’s harnessing the talker’s energy for his own ends.”
Since I was conscious, I smelled a rat as soon as she said “90 percent.” From there, I seized the first chance to leave—her amateurish yes-or-no question.
Never ask yes-or-no questions when connecting with someone! Not in interviews. Not on dates. Not when selling nail salon memberships. They essentially mean, “Do you want to keep talking to me?”
My answer? “Nope.”
Instead, she should’ve asked what Voss calls calibrated questions. These are open-ended and “avoid verbs or words like “can,” “is,” “are,” “do,” or “does.”
They’re reporter’s questions: who, what, where, when, why, how. Of those, Voss recommends focusing on “What?” or “How?”
She should’ve started with, “What part of town do you live in?” I might have been caught off guard and told the truth. Incidentally, I do live near this salon. That would’ve provided tons of ammo to persuade me to give the place a shot.
But she no ask-y. So I no tell-y.
From there, her second question could’ve been, “How do you decide on a nail place?”
Or “What’s important to you in choosing one?”
Maybe, “How much are you willing to spend?”
There. I just did her job for her.
Because “calibrated questions make your counterpart feel like they’re in charge, but it’s really you who are framing the conversation,” according to Voss.
Exactly! See how the questions pave the way to Sales Land? I would hog-tie myself with expansive, detailed answers. Armed with them, she’d explain how her salon magically fit all my requirements.
The technique cuts both ways. If I were interested in her crappy product, I could’ve used “How?” and “What?” to reduce the creepily low price, or sweeten the offer in another way.
But who cares? I’m a firm believer that no good deals are made on street corners. Whenever someone approaches you, unbidden, in public, with an offer, it’s a losing proposition for you.
Which is why I don’t feel a speck of guilt. She interrupted me. And wanted a commitment. From a stranger. On a sidewalk. Nice try! But I’m not a prostitute.
By the way, the business is floundering on Yelp, with lots of recent 1-star reviews. Shocking!