The Best Way to Say “I Don’t Know”

The Best Way to Say "I Don't Know"

If you are new to your position (sales or not) then it is very likely that you will be asked a question that you simply do not know the answer too. Even if you’ve been in your position for decades you may still come across a question that simply stumps you.

It happens and it is not something that you should be ashamed of. Let me give you a quick example from my life.

There were some recent account changes at my company which is not unusual in any way for a sales team of our size. Sales territories get too big, too small, sales reps leave, sales reps get added, or the company simply want’s to try something new. I’ve seen it done before and I’m sure I’ll see it again.

Well during this most recent change I’ve taken over new accounts with products I’ve had very little experience with. In fact, they are some of our most complex offerings. And as I was meeting with my new clients I was constantly asked questions I didn’t have the slightest clue about.

Below I’m going to break down how I responded and other ways to respond that you should avoid as an ethical salesperson.

How I Responded: Honestly

Nothing fancy here. I responded honestly.

I flat out said, “I don’t know”. And every time I said that or similar I made it a point, right then and there, to write the question down. Doing this did a couple of things.

It Built Trust

Unfortunately, too many salespeople think that if you don’t know how to answer a product question then you are showing that you are not a very good salesperson. I beg to differ.

I am not a product engineer, I am not a software coder, I am not part of our support team (call in tech support), I am not the Controller, I am not one of the consultants. There is too much to know for any one person to keep in their head.

I am a salesperson. I help them see the value of my offering. From a high level I can tell them everything they need to know, but when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of the product, I am not the expert to go to. If I knew everything there was to know about our software then I would probably be in a different position then I am now (product developer, product manager, support technician, etc)

Bu the key reason that admitting you don’t know everything is that it builds trust. They will believe you when you say “I don’t know”. They’ll know you aren’t trying to BS your way through the question. Because more often then not when you try to fake the information it will come back and bit you in the ass eventually, sometimes with their immediate next question since the first answer was so vague.

It Showed I Was Serious About Helping Them

When I write down that questions, right in front of them, it shows that I am taking it down as a follow-up item. They know it is much more unlikely that I will forget.

If I were to simply say “I don’t know but I’ll find out” that could be construed as you simply glossing over their question.

There is a very real reason they asked that question and getting it answered may be the only thing keeping you from closing the sale.

How You Shouldn’t Respond

If answering honestly is how you SHOULD respond then naturally the way you SHOULDN’T respond is by lying or trying to BS your way through it.


For obvious reasons, you should lie to a client or prospect. That too will probably come back and bite you in the rear at some point.

I have watched sales people lie to a client’s face and it’s had horrible consequences almost every single time.  It really isn’t worth it. No matter how small the lie, even if it’s simply to buy you more time, don’t do it.


BSing or guessing is another possible response you want to avoid.

Doing this reminds me of when I was going through training for my current position. During the time I was required to give multiple presentations to my sales trainer, some executives, and a few of the other trainees.  To make sure I knew the product and could speak intelligently to it.

Early in my training, I remember being asked a question that I was not 100% sure the answer was. Although my heart was pounding I gave what I thought was the right answer, trying to rationalize my response quickly in my mind. Afterwards, my trainer came up to me and asked me if I knew the answer to the question or was guessing.


I admitted that I wasn’t sure and that I gave the answer I did because I knew x, y, and z, therefore, I guesstimated that a=b. In the end, I was right about my answer and she agreed I worked it out in my head the best way possible.

But that conversation reminded me of a very important lesson when it comes to real-world business and sales.

It’s OK to not know all the answers. ~ Tweet This!

No one does. And no one ever will. Even if you look at the most knowledgeable person in your company or industry if you simply ask them what they wish they knew more about in their field, they’d have a couple of things they would list.

Don’t Be Afraid To Look Stupid

It is completely OK to admit ignorance, especially when it comes to some complex aspect of your offering. You should’t be afraid to look stupid in front of a client.

As long as you clearly understand what they are asking so you can reach out to the appropriate resource, you will never have to worry about knowing everything ever again.

~ Johnny Bravo

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