Why questions don’t work


Questions can help you make a sale when you are talking with a school manager.  So why don’t they work in emails?


If you talk to a potential customer in person, or on the phone, you’ll probably find yourself asking a few questions, in order to get the feeling of what the individual is looking for. 

You might for example ask about the age of the pupils being taught or the size of the room into which new furniture is going.  Or maybe, the date by which the new building is needed, or the use to which the hall that you are being asked to polish, is put to, on a daily basis.

That’s fine, and indeed quite often essential.  Questions are part of selling.  Except that if you try the same approach in an email it can be disastrous.

The reason for this is that when sending out an email to a lot of teachers, we can’t be specific, because we know each teacher is different.   Instead all we can do is ask very generalised questions, such as, “Would you like to take all your students up one grade at GCSE?”

The answer to questions like that of course is “yes” – but because the answer is obvious, the question is pointless.  And that means the teacher stops reading.

It is rather like me asking you if you would like £100,000.   The chances are I know the answer before I ask.

But people do ask these generalised questions in sales emails because it seems like a good way to grab attention.  However, when one comes to measure the sales that come from an email written in this way, they tend to be poor.  Closed (ie yes/no) questions, don’t bring in sales.

Open questions on the other hand, do work.  Questions such as “What is the most effective way of increasing your school’s average GCSE French result by one grade?”

The fact is that when you ask a question like that – a question which cannot be answered yes or no – you tend to get a much greater engagement with your readership.   The school manager sees the question, and quite possibly thinks she or he knows the answer – but still reads on, just to see what you say. 

So basically the rule is, avoid any questions to which the answer is obvious, or which can be answered yes or no.  They massively reduce your response rate.

And if you feel you are a bit stuck in writing your next advertisement to teachers, and you don’t quite know how to grab attention while avoiding the closed question, please do feel free to send a copy of your advertisement to me at  

I’ll take a look and send you back my thoughts.  No charge, no obligation.   Of course I’ll try (very gently) to persuade you to use our services when you are next wanting to email schools, but whether you do or not, the service is still there and still free.


Tony Attwood

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