Question vs. Concern“Do you have any questions?”

Are you and your staff ask­ing that of your prospec­tive cus­tomers? Do your sur­veys ask the same thing?

While your intent is admirable, your phras­ing just might be ham­per­ing sales, and I’d like to sug­gest a far more effec­tive variation.

But to under­stand the power of the vari­a­tion, you have to under­stand what’s wrong with the ques­tion you’re cur­rently asking.

The Magic of Word Association

It comes down to word asso­ci­a­tions. Our asso­ci­a­tions — our emo­tional reac­tions to words — often have very lit­tle to do with a word’s dry def­i­n­i­tions. Take “dis­crim­i­nate.” Are the host of emo­tions and men­tal images evoked by that word explained by the dic­tio­nary def­i­n­i­tion: to note a dif­fer­ence; to make a distinction?

And even though the two words have sim­i­lar def­i­n­i­tions, is it really that sur­pris­ing that every­one wants to be nor­mal but no one wants to be aver­age?

So, what are the asso­ci­a­tions behind the phras­ing: “Do you have any question?”

Well, let’s skip to the word “ques­tion” itself. A ques­tion is usu­ally imag­ined as fully-formed, well-articulated, and for the most part, direct. And emo­tion­ally speak­ing, ask­ing a ques­tion is often felt as reveal­ing or imply­ing igno­rance or weak­ness.  And then there’s the pre­sup­po­si­tion of the “Do you” part of your phras­ing, which assumes the prospect may not have any questions.

Ask me if I have any ques­tions and chances are I’ll say, “no.” I prob­a­bly haven’t for­mu­lated my thoughts yet, and quite frankly, I don’t want to sound like a bozo in front of the sales staff. “No” is safe. I like safe; I’d bet most of your prospects feel the same way, too.

How to take the neg­a­tive asso­ci­a­tions away from ask­ing a question

But what if you ask me about my CONCERNS? Ahhhh. Now I have per­mis­sion to be vague, to take my time…and to not feel like I’m admit­ting ignorance.

If I’m express­ing con­cerns (rather an ask­ing a ques­tion), I can tell you about emo­tional things like doubts.

Did you think word­smithing was only impor­tant to your adver­tis­ing copy? Is your sales team hear­ing “No” more often than you’d pre­fer? Try a lit­tle word­smithing; have them ask, “So what are your concerns?”

Appli­ca­tions to Online Copywriting

And if you’re read­ing this as a copy­writer, ask your­self this:

Are you expect­ing vis­i­tors to use for­mal nav­i­ga­tion in order to arrive at your question-answering content?

Or are you antic­i­pat­ing the asso­ci­a­tional flow of the con­ver­sa­tion and sup­ply­ing embed­ded links and embed­ded page ele­ments like videos, tes­ti­mo­ni­als, and pic­tures that would allow vis­i­tors to quickly drill down on areas of con­cern with­out hav­ing to explic­itly acknowl­edge and con­sciously think about those concerns?

Does your copy address con­cerns, or just answer questions?


  1. Shane Arthur on 12.16.2009

    I taught com­puter classes for about 4 years. Through­out each les­son I would always ask, “Does any­body have any ques­tions?” I knew peo­ple had them and I’d use humor to coax them into open­ing up, but sh!$ man, I could have used this advice the whole time! :)

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