When it comes to reading books, I employ a simple rule: 60 pages. I give the author in question 60 pages to convince me to keep reading.
At that point, if I’m not liking it, I give myself permission to put the book down and never look back.
And I have to tell you, it wasn’t looking good these last few days for Warren Berger and his book, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.
Had you stopped me in Starbucks at page 19, I would have predicted he wasn’t going to make it.
Had you sidled up to my car at page 32, as I waited for my son Jon at the train station, I would have told you it didn’t look good.
Indeed, had you tapped me on the shoulder the other night at page 47, as I read a few pages in bed before going to sleep, I would have told you to get the hell out of my house. And then I would have said, “Not a keeper.”
And yet somehow, somewhere in the mid-fifties, things started to click, and Mr. Berger got over my admittedly subjective bar.
The book, if I may unfairly oversimplify a man’s 272 pages of writing and years of hard work, makes a simple point: There’s more to be learned in asking questions than there is in knowing answers.
Questions, according to the author, are where the best insights are born.
I couldn’t agree more. In fact, it’s questions that have become the basis of my entire approach to selling (and something I recommend for you as well).
You see back when I first became a solo professional (2000) and although at that point I had many years of big company marketing experience, I really knew nothing about selling.
Actually, it was even worse than that: The little I knew, was wrong.
Back then, I believed that selling was a technique-oriented skill, a thing you did to manipulate people into hiring you.
Different situations required different techniques, and your job in selling – like learning street self defense – was to become well versed in handling and countering every possible situation and weapon that your adversary might bring. Or something like that.
Today – and thanks in large part to another book: Selling with Integrity – I see things very differently.
It’s not about leading with answers (i.e., “Here’s what I do and why you should hire me”). Instead, it’s about focusing on helping the other person solve whatever problem he or she has.
And you can’t do that without asking lots and lots of questions.
- Tell me about your business.
- What’s not working?
- How would things look/work if this problem were solved?
- Why haven’t you already fixed/done this yourself?
All of these and questions like them help the other person focus and articulate what’s going on, while at the same time giving you the information you need to make suggestions.
Here’s an even simpler way to think about it: Stop looking at the other person as a prospect to be sold and just think of them as a friend.
A friend who has a problem in the area in which you have a lot of experience and expertise.
In that situation, and in order to help them figure out what to do next, you wouldn’t be trying to close them. Instead, you’d ask a lot of questions – all with the goal of pointing them in the right direction.
Well, effective selling, I’ve learned, is the exact same thing: Help people solve their problems.
If the solution is you, great. If it isn’t (and this is the hard part) tell them why and send them to a better place. (I don’t mean kill them; I mean someone or something that makes more sense for them.)
“Now hold on there just a minute, Mr.Look-What-I-Learned-In-A-Book-Solo-Professional-Marketing-Guy, don’t you have to eventually close people so that at least some of them buy from you?”
Sure. But after you’ve used questions to understand the situation, offer options and clear away any confusion that the other person is experiencing, the closing part is both pleasant and easy.
At that point, either everything comes together and you’re well down the road towards getting hired or they thank you for your honest, helpful advice and go off on their merry way.
In the end, either you get a new client, or you get a new friend, both of which are very good for your business.
Warren Berger’s book has suddenly got me questioning everything. Here are three of mine (add yours down below):
- Why don’t waiters write things down anymore?
- How would the world be different if people continued growing (physically), throughout their entire lives?
- Why does NPR insist on updating me on the Dow Jones Industrial Average all day long? It seems to me that those who care have already figured out a more timely, more efficient way to track this number.