Stiletto Questions

I’ve often spoken of the “martial arts” of language, which means taking the other person’s momentum and turning it back at them. For example, when you’re asked, “What is your fee?” you respond, “I don’t know, what are your goals?” (“What can you do for me?” “I have no idea, yet. Tell me about your priorities.”)

Lately, I’ve had more questions than ever about people trying to be tough negotiators in the preliminary stages. Once you establish a relationship WITH A TRUE ECONOMIC BUYER, then there should be no problem, since partners don’t try to take advantage of each other.

But if you are confronted with an obnoxious (and often, just stupid, objection) use what I call “stiletto questions.” Read on and I think you’ll understand the reason for the sobriquet.

Buyer: I’m not going to pay for anything before I see results. So you’ll have to create a payment schedule that reflects my paying once I see those results.

You: What business are you in?

Buyer: You know our business, it’s consumer electronics.

You: And do you allow customers to tell you that they’ll pay once they’re happy with the device, or do you charge them when they’ve made the purchasing decision?

Always turn the question around to the buyer’s business, and 99.9 percent of the time, you’ll find that you’re being asked to do something that the buyer wouldn’t condone in his or her own business.

Also, always be prepared for either answer. Example:

Buyer: I want you to give me a better fee. Reduce your fee by 25 percent and we have a deal.

You: Do you reduce your fees for clients by 25 percent just because they ask you to?

Buyer: Of course not.

You: Then why would you expect me to do that?

If buyer says: As a matter of fact, we do!

You: Then that’s why you need me, and fast!

Wittgenstein said that the limits of his language were the limits of his world. That’s certainly true of your business world. Mastering language requires no capital investment and can be quite rapid. But you have to have the tools (never “dumb down” your speech, that’s for amateurs) and the self-esteem (you’re not “selling,” you’re providing value).

One final example, against a very powerful rebuttal, one that sends most consultants scurrying for the exits:

Buyer: Please don’t waste your time, we have a policy against hiring consultants here.

You: You’d be shocked at how many of my best clients said that during our first meeting!

Speak powerfully and confidently, with expression and influence. The alternative is poverty.

© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.

18 thoughts on “Stiletto Questions

  1. Alan,

    Great advice. In the interest of word “play” I was surprised by your use of the word sobriquet which is defined as an “affectionate or humorous nickname.” Perhaps the The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, on line version, didn’t delve into more uses of the word.
    My thinking is that “stiletto questions” is a metaphor.
    Regardless, brilliant parries to the questions buyers believe they’ve unsheathed in order to maim the consultant or vendor.

  2. Insightful stuff, these different methods of using speech as a ‘secret weapon’ as opposed to your product, is powerful stuff. Executives really respond to this kind of stuff.

    For example: “I appreciate your skepticism, because like you Mr. Prospect, most of my customers started out as skeptics as well, so I respect that. Of course implying that you too Mr. Prospect will be my customer soon enough. Yeah, fun stuff!


  3. A sobriquet is a fanciful name or nickname (Webster’s Third Unabridged). Why are you using an online source?! It’s definitely not a metaphor, since it uses the intended purpose: “question.”

  4. the philosophy of language is an amazing study. Exploring the foundation and process of how the words and symbols that we use create a reality. When a construct of language (construct in the term of co-created agreement on creation)we create the reality we see, hear, and experience. When involved in any conversation the both of you are constructing a shared reality through language that will based upon conjunction set all actions for future discussions.

  5. Michael, I’m considered smarter than the average bear, and I have zero idea of what you said. That’s a pretty poor use of language—it obfuscates instead of clarifies. That parenthetical statement alone should be arrested and jailed for disturbing the peace.

  6. thank you for the response.
    1) words we use create reality
    2) when people are together language used creates a shared rapport / reality
    3) once you develop a shared rapport it will influence all future interactions.
    4) this influences the way the buyer perceives you and how you perceive the buyer

  7. OK, but not all language creates rapport (“shared rapport” is redundant). Nor does language create reality. You can call airport security, for example, highly efficient and necessary, but it doesn’t change my reality of a huge jobs program which is largely symbolic.

  8. What does – “words we use create reality” mean?

    Isn’t reality just fact? Sure words can be used to distort interpretation, but reality exists and thats it.

    Maybe I don’t understand the language of reality.. hmmm

  9. Perception is often reality, because people act on the basis of what they perceive. Often, there is no greater “reality.” If I perceive your “body language” is hostile, I may not engage with you, even though you meant no ill will. What is the “reality” there? I simply acted on my (wrong) perceptions.

  10. “Simon Says” is kind of funny, isn’t it?!

    If you read some of the great philosophers you’ll find they say some fascinating and weird things about reality, including you can never see it! (Berkeley, Heidegger, Sartre, etc.)

  11. Put your hands on your head..

    I will broaden my horizons and read some philosophers.

    I’m Australian and talk sdrawkcab – the light bulb went off – means it went on and shone brightly!!

  12. As usual..great advice !!

    Another great stiletto question is when the client says “I have achieved a target of 90% why do I need a consultant ?”

    You : What makes you think you cant reach 100%, thats what I’ll like to help you with!”

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