Sensitive Topic

The most expensive dry hole in South East Asia and practising safe questions

A few years ago I accompanied one of my sales people on a customer meeting in Indonesia. In the pre-meeting briefing, I was informed that the person we were meeting, the exploration manager for a mid-sized oil and gas company, had famously just completed drilling the most expensive dry hole in Indonesia. That is, they had spent more than $100 million dollars and failed to find hydrocarbons.

We were selling software that had the potential to avoid a repeat of that failure, so clearly, we would like to discuss the recent dry hole and the reasons for it.

My sales person, however, was nervous about asking, fearing that the topic would be embarrassing for the exploration manager. So I explained a specific question type which is safe for this sort of situation.

The question is: "To what extent is


an issue in ...."

When you ask to "what extent is" you are not making any assumption about the answer, so its a safe way to ask.

As we were selling software that could have imaged the target better our question was:

"To what extent was target imaging an issue in your recent non-discovery well?"

Note that this is safer than an alternatives such as:

"Did you have trouble imaging the reservoir in you recent ...?"

With this question the listener is likely to hear " have trouble ..." and take offence.

We asked our "to what extent is .." questions, and had a constructive meeting - to the relief of my local sales person.

Learning to ask the right question in the right sequence is critical to sales success and something we teach in our Diamond Dialogue conversation training.

Read more about sales questions at:



: Mid sized Oil and Gas Company


: Mike Adams personal experience



Story Type

: Teaching


For Story Students

The Setting

: In 2010 I was working in Halliburton as Head of Sales and I had a meeting with an exploration manager who had just drilled the most expensive dry hole well in SE Asia

The Complications

: I needed a way to get the conversation onto the topic of the dry hole without embarrassing the exploration manager

The Turning Point

: I called on my question skills training to devise a safe way to ask about the dry hole useing the "To What Extent ...?" quesion

The Resolution

: We had an engaging conversation and were able to position our software products to prevent future issues

The Point of the Story

: We had an engaging conversation and were able to position our software products to prevent future issues

How to use this story

: We use the story in our sales conversation training and to show the benefits of the Diamond Dialogue questioning framework