Ultimate question

The Ultimate Question We’re Not Asking

In this post by Go-Giver Coach and Speaker (and the man who is bringing The Go-Giver philosophy and methodology to corporate Australia), Ian Lowe, he makes a terrific point in terms of the “ultimate question” those of us in sales need to ask ourselves…and contemplate until we truly know our answer.

Enjoy Ian’s wisdom. – Bob Burg


In Fred Reichheld’s ground breaking book ‘The Ultimate Question’ he writes about how asking your customer that one ultimate question, “How likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?” and ranking their responses on a 0-10 scale drives extraordinary financial and competitive results.

I am a huge fan of Fred’s work and it occurred to me in a moment of quiet contemplation one day that despite the fact that asking questions is the sales persons raison d’être, could it be that there’s one ultimate question we’re not asking? And by ‘…we’re not asking’ I’m referring to the profession as a whole.

Let me apologise in advance to those true sales professionals out there, you’ve no doubt figured out the question and answered it long ago or you wouldn’t be enjoying the stellar career’s you are today. The fact that you stand out from the crowd as shining examples of selling the way it should be help’s to make my point. So many in sales haven’t found the answer, a fewer still even realise there’s a question to be asked. You flag flyers are the exception rather than the rule my friends and I for one salute you.

The sad reality however is that of the hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, small business owners, corporate salespeople or anyone who finds themselves fulfilling any type of sales function, most are having a hard time with sales and selling. And you know what so are buyers, customers, clients, prospects regardless of the term you wish to use. Whatever side of the table you’re sitting on – buyer or seller – we currently exist more as combatants than as collaborators much of the time.

Could it be that this House of Cards-like battle between the buyers and sellers of the world all comes down to this one pesky question we refuse to ask or is it refuse to answer? Or is it that we’re fully aware of the question but we just don’t like the answer so we pretend it’s not there gnawing away at our collective conscience.

I’m nearly there so just a few more words to contextualise before the big reveal. I think it’s fair to say that just about everyone in a sales role would have been exposed to some form of sales training or what we could refer to as the ‘How’ – all you have to do (so the idea goes) is thoroughly learn and carefully practice everything in the sales person’s bag of tricks and you too will become a sales success! At least that’s the theory (and probably a great point to discuss in another blog post.)

So the How of selling is a tried and tested path, but given the adversarial nature of the buyer/seller relationship the how doesn’t seem to steering us in the right direction. What gets far less if any attention at all is the much more important question of – Why?

So here we are back at where we started with that ultimate question we’re not asking – here it is “Why do we sell?”  If you’re jumping to the comment box below with an answer that has anything to do with you, your company or the financial drivers of employees and companies who sell their products and services, of course I get that. But even though these are very real issues and because I need to feed my children or to pay my staff are very real answers – yet here we are with these adversarial buyer/seller relationships that make the sales process so dysfunctional and frustrating!

I urge a pause; contemplate, meditate and ruminate for a while –  then please share your Why with us.

About Ian Lowe

Ian Lowe is the CEO of Go-Givers Australia, a consulting organisation offering a unique culture-defining philosophy and framework that makes giving value the cornerstone of a refreshingly open and authentic approach to business and selling.


  1. Great post on the key question in selling or almost any area of life.

    “If we don’t know the answer to the question WHY, the price of HOW will always seem to expensive!”

    Excellent blog.

    • Thank you Dennis. That’s a great way of putting it and so true. It’s scary to think how much time and effort is invested in sales pursuits over days, weeks, months and in some cases years all around the world without having considered the ‘Why’ individually or organisationally. Ultimately the only result is to make the cost of failure more expensive.

  2. With a long career in journalism, I have always made my living by providing information to others. As a journalist, I got paid for simply gathering and presenting the information.
    Now I get paid when others act on the information I provide in the form of buying the service I am presenting to them.
    As a long time user of the service, I know the value of what I offer and I feel obligated to share what has been so good for me with others.
    That is my motivation. I don’t have to have the income, it is just a nice benefit of helping others.

    • Mark: I appreciate your passion for providing great value to people via your product/service. And, that is a GREAT motivation! The only area in which I might respectfully take exception is where you say that, “I don’t have to have the income, it is just a nice benefit of helping others.” Unless you are simply so independently wealthy that you no longer benefit from income (and, you might be – of course, I don’t know) why would you embrace the “treacherous dichotomy” or “false dilemma” (the unnecessary use of the word, “or” – in this case, “income OR helping others”) that it’s one OR the other. If you are providing exceptional value to many others, why wouldn’t you also desire to receive in abundance? Please understand, I’m not in any way trying to discourage you from your obvious caring attitude and passion for your work – I just want you to consider the implication of that last sentence and what negative – as prosperity authority, Randy Gage would call them – “memes” you might be unconsciously accepting. Thank you, my friend!

  3. Great article….

    My view on why the cognitive dissonance between sellers and buyers?

    Not delivering VALUE preemptively by the seller!

    The VALUE strategy speaks to genuinely thinking of and treating all prospects as CLIENTS vs. Customers. The “GO-GIVER WAY” speaks to this succinctly in giving VALUE preemptively and proactively BEFORE you can even consider any VALUE back for your genuine efforts, and NOT necessarily from the one you gave the value to!

    VALUE is the first of the “Five Laws of Stratospheric Success” Get the “Go-Giver”

    • Awesome to see you’re a fan of The Go-Giver Way Geary. I support your “Get The Go-Giver” call to action 100%. Thank you for that. I might take your “treating all prospects as Clients vs. Customers” comment one step further by suggesting we simply see them as they are – living breathing fresh and blood people. The words we use and the behaviours we associate with those words have a powerful effect on the “Why do we sell?” issue at the heart of this post. Its not hard to see why sales has become so dysfunctional we see people as prospects or any one of the multitude of other dehumanising terms the sales profession is brim full of. As Debra Davenport says in The Go-Giver “You want great people skills? Then be a person.” Thank you for your contribution.

  4. The answer to WHY we sell has nothing to do with us and everything to do with them (our clients, customers, prospects). The word ‘why’ has two meanings. Lowercase ‘why’ answers questions relating to us. Why we sell? To pay the bills, to feed our family, to generate a lifestyle. The uppercase ‘Why’ answers questions relating to our customers. We sell to fulfill a greater need, to resolve a problem and to heal a pain. If we focus on the uppercase Why, my experience proves to me we also resolve the lowercase why as well. Working towards a goal of giving works much better than towards a goal of getting.

    • G’Day Doug and thanks for your comments. I like the way you use the upper and lower case analogy to illustrate your point. Its certainly a multidimensional issue and the more I think about it the more convinced I am that sales as a profession needs to reconnect with its ‘Why?’ But when we talk ‘sales’ in today’s connected world we’re actually talking about everyone in a company or organisation, the walking brand ambassadors that either create or undermine value with every interaction. In this context our “Why do we sell?” question touches every DNA strand an organisation. Whether upper or lower case we’re dealing with the entire alphabet!

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