The Power of the Conditional Question
January 18, 2021 by Jim Moushon

Has this happened to you before? You are in a conversation or negotiation with a prospect, the dialogue is advancing, when suddenly everything comes to an abrupt halt. The prospect won’t agree to signing a purchase order, bringing in other decision-makers, or to proceeding to the next step in the sales process. 

The salesperson may start to panic and quickly begin a search of the database in their mind about what to do or say next. All of this takes place in a matter of nano seconds, though it may feel like hours, while the prospect is looking at the salesperson to see what he or she will do or say next. At this point, the ball is definitely in the salesperson’s court.  

If you find yourself in this scenario, remember the power of the “If” or “What if” questions. These are questions that, as you may have guessed, begin with either “If” or “What if” and will usually get the prospect to re-engage in the conversation. Some examples are:  

     “If you were to go ahead with this initiative, how many units would you need?”  

     “If you were to expand your operations, what kind of timeline are you anticipating?”  

     “What if you took a different approach, how would that enable you to meet your goals?” 

The “If” or “What if” question, sometimes called a conditional question, allows the prospect to think out loud and imagine the possibilities without feeling pressured to do business with the salesperson. They are just having a conversation about what could be without any commitment on their part.  

A benefit to the salesperson of the conditional question is that it allows the salesperson to explore what may be considered sensitive areas, such as budget or decision-making, without putting the prospect on the spot. For example: “If you were to proceed, besides yourself, who else would be involved in this decision?” This confers status on the prospect whether he or she is a decision-maker or not. At the same time, it allows the prospect to respond without feeling diminished in case he or she is not the decision-maker. Compared to simply asking “Are you the decision maker?” or “Is there anyone else who needs to be involved in the decision?” the salesperson will likely get more critical information and strengthen the relationship by using the condition question.  

For more information on client focused dialogue skills, please visit Communispond’s website at and check out our sales solutions such as Socratic Selling Skills and Sales Presentation Skills for either face-to-face or virtual interactions.