(reading time: 3 minutes)

Lots of people, including me, love watching crime shows. Series like The First 48 are some of the most popular television shows out there. And arguably the most compelling part of the show is when the suspects are in the interrogation room and being questioned by the detectives. While it might seem like they’re simply asking questions, police interrogators are trained and highly skilled at getting answers.

There are a few things that salespeople can take away from the police interrogation process. To be clear, there is no similarity between the outcomes police interrogators are looking for and those of salespeople, nor is there any comparison between prospects and suspects in criminal activity. But there are valuable methods used by interrogators that salespeople can apply to their own efforts. Here are five:

(Side note: One method that the best salespeople use that the best police interrogators probably don’t is using a sales automation CRM.)

1. Build trust

The most skilled interrogators are experts at getting people to trust them. They do this by being straightforward, accommodating, and direct. They don’t try to lay it on thick or act like someone they’re not, instead they approach the interrogation from the perspective of accommodation for the subject. It’s about asking what can they do to help the person, and they’re able to do this in a way that will convince the subject that they’re acting in their own self-interest. A skilled salesperson can do this, but they get the added benefit of actually being able to help their prospects.

2. Ask questions, lots of them

Police interrogators ask lots and lots of questions. In fact, the majority of the time when they’re speaking, they’re asking questions of the subject. And the questions are never a one and done, they’re in depth questions whose answers then lead to follow up questions, and then to asking for more and more details. A talented salesperson will do the same, spending lots of time asking questions, with follow-ups that come from the answers. In fact, a great salesperson spends much more time asking questions than they spend on their sales pitch.

3. Listen

If you want someone to tell you everything you need to know, you need to learn how to become an excellent listener. Police interrogators understand this, and they’re great at letting subjects talk themselves into a corner. Not everyone knows how to keep their mouth shut and not interrupt, but interrogators understand that oftentimes the best witness statement against someone can come from their own words. Similarly, salespeople need to be experts at listening. The truth is, if you listen to a prospect long enough, they’ll usually tell you everything you need to know about how to close their deal.

4. Pose an “alternative question”

One of the techniques interrogators use is posing an alternative question to their subject. This usually takes the form of putting themselves in the subject’s shoes and saying, “Well maybe you didn’t mean to do this, and instead, xxxx is what actually happened. Could that be the case?” This basically gives the interviewee an “out,” or another option for how they want to describe what happened. Salespeople can use this technique to close deals by offering an alternative scenario to entice the prospect to do business. “Well maybe instead of overpaying for your current solution, you’d like to save money and make the switch to our service? How does that sound?” Or, in another use of the alternative question, you could provide two options and offer the prospect the choice between the two. “Would you like to go with the higher value offer, or with our most affordable option today?”

5. Push for a decision

The most compelling moment of a televised interrogation is usually the climax, where the interrogator pushes the subject to the edge, applying intense pressure to get them to confess or divulge the information they’re looking for. “So what’s it going to be, right here and right now, this is your chance to come clean and make this right.” It makes for great television, but it’s also a highly effective technique that would be considered “closing” in the sales world. Far too many salespeople go through every stage of the sales process, but don’t push the prospect to a decision. If you do everything correctly, and then apply just the right amount of pressure, you’ll have yourself the sales equivalent of a “confession,” you’ll have a closed deal!

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About the Author Ken Kupchik

Ken Kupchik is the creator of Sales Humor and the author of the funniest sales book ever written, The Sales Survival Handbook, which you can order on Amazon.com. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


  • Chris Fraser says:

    In 1982, I took long service leave from the New South Wales Police, where I had been a detective for several years, and tried life insurance sales. I was immediately successful. My sales manager later told me that he had actively recruited me because he knew that I would be attentive to detail and be able to follow through on the paperwork. After several months selling life insurance, I noticed that instead of questioning people who were under great stress as either perpetrators of or witnesses to crimes, I was questioning people who were far more relaxed. This task was much easier.

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