It’s Professional to Not Know the Answer

It’s true you need business acumen. It’s also true you need a deep understanding of how you help your clients. This doesn’t require that you know everything.

When You Don’t Know, Say “I Don’t Know”

The inability to say the three little words “I don’t know” doesn’t afflict only salespeople. It’s an epidemic with management, leadership, and all sorts of professionals. But true professionals have no trouble admitting that that they don’t know something when asked.

Even if you are a subject matter expert with years in your field, with all you know there will still be more that you don’t know. When your client asks you a question to which you don’t know the answer, the legitimate, professional response is: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out the answer for you.”

As a salesperson, you are going to encounter new questions all of the time. You are going to be asked questions that you will be wholly unprepared to answer. You know I am big on planned dialogues, and there isn’t any reason to have this answer in your repertoire for the many occasions when it is the only right answer.

Predicting the Outcome

Some of us sell outcomes that vary greatly from client to client. Helping them to achieve that outcome sometimes means that we have to get started and take a look at the results to determine how to help make an improvement.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the staffing industry, as such, I have helped clients with turnover issues. I have never been able to help them make a great improvement without first spending the time to study and understand what was driving the turnover. When asked for what I thought needed changed early on in a relationship, I always said I didn’t know but we’d find out together.

I’ve also spent time helping sales organizations improve their results. Even after reverse-engineering their sales process based on what works for them, invariably we learn more together over time and make adjustments.

It’s sometimes difficult to predict what might need to be changed to get the necessary outcome. When asked, the answer is: “I don’t know all of the challenges we will encounter or what we will need to change, but I know we’ll learn something we can act on together.”

Admitting that you don’t know the answer doesn’t diminish your professionalism; it builds it. Admitting that you don’t know some answers doesn’t destroy trust; it builds it.

Sometimes you do know enough to make an educated guess. There isn’t much harm in saying, “I am not exactly sure what our outcome will be here, but based on my experience, I expect to see these two things happen.”

When you don’t know, don’t pretend that you do. You destroy your credibility and your ability to be trusted. There is no harm in being ignorant. There is only harm in pretending not to be and not doing something about it.


Why is it important to be able to say that you don’t know something when asked?

Is it critical that you always know the answer to every question asked?

How does admitting that you don’t know an answer build trust?

How does your admission help to manage expectations and prevent your from being guilty of being dishonest?

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Filed under: Sales

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