Ask the Right Questions

Home/telephone, wording/Ask the Right Questions

Ask the Right Questions

The human mind is a wondrous thing. If you ask the right questions it will always come up with an answer for you, or try to.

If an overweight person asks himself, “Why am I so fat?” – the subconscious mind will give him an answer. That answer may well be “Because I’m a lazy slob, I eat too much, don’t exercise and watch too much TV”.
But, if this person asks, “How can I lose weight and enjoy the process?” – the mind will give him a very different answer. It may be something like “I can go on regular walks in the morning in the sunshine, listening to my audio tapes and plan my diet better”. Same problem. But the different question got a much better answer.
Debt Collection is much the same.

Test this for yourself. Answer this. What would you say to one of the clients if they tell you that they can’t pay you the full amount of the overdue fees right now? Which of the following phrases (or similar) are you most likely to use?
1. Well, how much can you pay?
2. I need you to pay at least half.
3. I need the full amount now, nothing less will do.
4. Can we come to some sort of an arrangement?
5. Something else?
Look at this a bit further. Let’s assume that the outstanding fees are $4,000.
1. If you answered, ”Well, how much can you pay?”
you’d be like most other people. But consider this, would it sound quite reasonable if the client then offered to send you $500 now and the rest on a weekly basis? It would, wouldn’t it?
But by asking the client “Well, how much can you pay”, you’re almost inviting them to make you a low offer. You’re putting the ball into their court and effectively saying, “OK. Well make me an offer”. From a negotiating point of view, that is the worst possible thing to say yet it’s the one that most people reply with!

2. If you answered “I need you to pay at least half,”

you’ve just limited yourself to accepting $2,000. But why offer to accept only 50% now, they might be able to afford more?

3. If you answered, ”I need the full amount now, nothing less will do”,

your client will think you’re getting aggressive. You’re almost certain to get the client offside which will dramatically reduce your chances of a reasonable negotiation.

4. If you answered, “Can we come to some sort of an arrangement?”,

chances are that your client will make you an offer. But it’s very likely to be much lower than you really want to accept because again you’ve verbally shrugged your shoulders and are effectively saying, “OK then, make me an offer”.
The best way to reply to the “I can’t pay the full amount right now” response is to ask:

Well – how much are you short?


By replying in that way, you make it much harder for the client to offer to send you, for example, only $500. They have to say that they’re $3,500 short of the $4,000 account.

“$500 now” doesn’t sound too bad when you ask ”Well, how much can you afford?” But, “$3,500.00 shortdoes … in view of the total amount involved. The client will hear themselves sounding unreasonable by asking them in this way and more often than not you’ll get a higher commitment than by asking them in any other way.
We learnt this many years ago in an Accounting Practice and the Debtor blurted out “I’ve only got half” (of the $10,000 bill) when we asked him how much he was short of the full amount. We took it.  Historically this debtor client had paid off his debt at the rate of $1,000 per month.
That’s a 500% increase
just by asking the right question.


By | 2017-07-17T09:10:38+00:00 June 8th, 2010|telephone, wording|3 Comments

About the Author:

Have you ever wondered why a client does business with you and then ignores your invoice like they had no intention of paying it in the first place or they treat you like their own personal line of credit, leaving YOU dangling, waiting months for their payment? Unfortunately this situation is all too common and can even be puzzling for the most experienced business owner. If you’ve ever had to handle outstanding accounts or you are just so over non-payers, then we can help. Real-world skills, solutions, tips & strategies to get more accounts paid on time, and, most importantly, how to maintain customer goodwill while keeping YOUR cash flow in the positive. You will find the blog posts helpful but to get real results, contact us by using any of the forms on this site, by email or by phone. I’ve been involved in the management of accounts for over 30 years, heard every excuse in the book, can spot a non-payer at 20 paces. Finance Companies in the 70s (systematic, tough), professional firms in the 80s (no systems, too gentle) and, since then, just about every other sort of business you can think of. I’ve written books on the topic, spoken all over the place about it and the blog in this website is my way of “giving back”. I hope you find it helpful.


  1. Christina Nitschmann April 25, 2012 at 9:51 pm - Reply

    Love it, asking better questions leads to better results in collections and life. Great post. Thank you Michael.

  2. Nimish May 3, 2012 at 11:09 pm - Reply

    Good Technique particular for small businesses. Thank you Michael

  3. Nimish May 3, 2012 at 11:10 pm - Reply

    Good and different questioning technique. Will try it out particular when you are in a small business environment. Thank you Michael


Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.