Awkward Questions You Might Be Asked and How to Answer Them
The following is an excerpt from Outsmarting Goliath (Bloomberg Press, 2000). For the
full textincluding 15 additional questionssee the book.
Copyright © 2000 by Debra Koontz Traverso.
All rights reserved in all media.
There's nothing as awkward as unexpectedly being asked a question whose answer could
prove embarrassing or too revealing of you and your company's size, age, success or standing.
Below is a list of ten questions affecting image that are frequently asked of
small business owners. Prepare your clever, insightful and not-too-revealing answers
now so that you can deliver them in an extemporaneous manner when necessary. Be sure
to review them with partners and key company personnel to make sure you all are
delivering the same message. For some of the tougher or more potentially damaging
questions, I have provided guidance or suggestions.
And finally, remember: if you're ever in doubt or your back is against the wall,
always opt for honesty. Not only is it the best business policy, but it's easier to
remember the truth than it is a lie.
1. How are you? Was the trip good? Did you have trouble finding us?
You are terrific, the trip was pleasant, and you had no trouble finding them. That's
because you're always positive, you enjoy every aspect of your work, and you take
the time to get directions in advance. Don't let anything negative enter into your
conversation. Keep everything positive, even the basics of finding your client
despite a congested city, an early morning flat tire, and three wrong turns.
2. How long has your company been in business?
If the answer is only a short time, then expound on how much experience you gained
in the field prior to launching the business.
3. How many employees do you have?
"Fortunately we are small, which will be to your benefit. You see, our competitors are
larger; they have more employees. We prefer to work with associates on an as-needed basis.
This way, rather than assigning an employee who isn't specifically qualified to do the
job you need accomplishedas our competition must do to ensure their people are
billablewe can pick and choose from a long list of associates, selecting the
professional most qualified to do your job. We do this so that you'll be satisfied
and turn to us again."
4. How large is your company?
You don't have to give numbers. Instead say, "Large enough to handle this project
with the best people on staff," or something else true but equally noncommittal.
Then move on to add "My contacts for this job range from . . ." or "My vendors
know that I expect. . . ," thus giving your client the assurance that he's actually seeking.
5. How many people work for you?
When someone asks this, you could laughingly answer:"About half of them," then
quickly change the subject. (A word of caution: evaluate each situation before
using this technique--sparingly. Your words could imply that you're not happy
with your staff or that the staff is lazy.) When you must provide the information,
instead of just saying "five," try this:
Them: "So, how many people work for you?"
You: "Well, given that we are open six days a week, can turn around orders
within a day, have the latest in equipment and a client base of more than 75
satisfied customers, how big do you think we are?"
Them: "Oh, I don't know...20?"
You (very proudly): "Five! Isn't that great?"
6. Who is using your products in the same way that we plan to use them?
If the answer is no one, be up front about it. Say something like this: "No one.
This is an opportunity for you to be a leader. This means that use of this product
will establish you as an innovative thinker and may even bring you coverage in the
local press or others in your industry."
7. What products or services do you plan on introducing in the near future?
Here's your chance to educate your client about what services you provide; and because
you've done your homework and have a good idea what his needs are, you can share the
fact that you're considering launching a product or service that you know will pique
8. Have you done innovative things (inaugurated new systems, developed new procedures)
for other companies?
Of course you have! You have developed very good solutions to other client's
problems. Due to confidentiality agreements, you can't share their names, but
you'd be happy to share the problems and solutions.
9. How is your company organized?
You can't say, "Well, my company has five levels, and I'm all five of them."
Instead say, "I'm in charge so if you have problems, you'll be working directly
with me." Then quickly move on.
10. What do you think of XYZ's (your competitor) products or services?
You may not think much of them, but you don't say that. Instead say, "XYZ and I
have a friendly association and I admire their (choose something innocuous); however,
for specifics about their company, you should probably talk to them. I can tell you
that we differ in that we. . . (expound heartily on your own virtues)."
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