What is so hard about those three little words? Is it that we assume people will question our knowledge? Or our credibility? Maybe it is what those words tell us about ourselves that makes us so uncomfortable. The good news is that being able to say “I don’t know” speaks more to your ability to be self-aware and honest, rather than being an indictment of your self-worth. In sales, prospects want to deal with people who are authentic and won’t BS them. The second you articulate “I don’t know”, prospects care more about what you’ll do to find the right answer and whether those resources are reliable. For all the reasons or excuses salespeople provide for why deals fall through, the last time I checked, none of them included “I lost the deal because I couldn’t instantly answer a question.” So what are your options when you’re stumped?

Qualifying

The simple answer is you can start your response with qualifiers like, “That’s a good question, I have never been asked that before, or Here’s what I can tell you now….” Follow the qualifier by communicating how and from whom you will find THE answer and when you will let them know. This leads me to the resources you have at your company.

Many young salespeople rely on their boss or their colleagues to jump on calls with them or to fill in the gaps they are still feeling unsure about. It is an outstanding way to get accurate information and it could also be an obvious indicator, that this person needs more training, either in general or in a more specific area. Additionally, in a sales leader’s haste to manage their workload, they may miss cues when a salesperson brings them isolated questions in hopes of not stalling a potential deal.

Admitting you don’t know something doesn’t destroy trust; it builds it

Ironically, I find those three words have often had a positive impact and created trust in the early stages of a relationship. When a prospect asks me how I can help or what they need to do differently, many times I answer, “I don’t know” because I would need to know more information and then convey that we can craft a solution together. This gives the prospect peace of mind that I am not offering a quick-fix, templated approach and is also consistent with the core values I practice.

Close Encounter of A Different Kind

You are going to encounter new questions all the time and frankly, if you don’t know the answer, there’s a good chance someone on your team doesn’t either. It’s hard enough to admit that you don’t know something to a prospect but admitting it to a sales leader who believes s/he has already trained you on these details is an uncomfortable proposition. What about asking this question in front of the team and opening yourself up to potential ridicule? As daunting as this sounds, it is likely many of your sales colleagues will be happy you asked because not only were they also uncomfortable asking that question, it’s often the one they wished they had the courage to ask themselves.

Ignorance is Bliss

The best sales leaders create a workplace culture where not only are their direct reports comfortable asking questions directly to them, but also in front of the group so everyone can benefit. I also recommend to sales leaders that they aggregate these questions into an internal FAQ for scaling and onboarding purposes because if one person asks, most likely others will have the same question down the line.

If you chose sales as your profession, you are most likely competitive and ideally seek every bit of information you need to be successful. By giving incomplete or inaccurate answers you risk your reputation, success, and as important, a potential customer’s trust. We need to spend less time being ashamed of what we don’t know, and more time taking the initiative to increase our knowledge base. There is no harm in being uninformed, only in pretending not to be and not doing something about it.