It was a terrific question, and one that I had not anticipated.
I was standing in the Price Chopper supermarket parking lot, talking to Earl, a soft-spoken, older man who had driven down from New Hampshire to consider buying our 2012 Toyota Highlander.
I had just countered his offer, when he paused and asked, “If you were selling this car to a family member, what other things would you fix or tell them about before you did?”
Like I said, a terrific question.
Not only was it unexpected, it turned an impersonal negotiation into an honest conversation about safety and reliability.
Once asked, the only way I could have sidestepped the question would have been to flat out lie.
So, of course I did.
Am I? Yes.
I told him the truth: It’s a great car, one that we were only selling because we no longer need a vehicle that seats seven.
Satisfied with my answer, he accepted my offer and we shook (virtually) on the deal.
Questions Are More Powerful Than Answers
As professional service providers, we are in the advice-giving business. All day long, we provide answers.
That’s fine. Ultimately, that’s (mostly) what clients want.
The thing is, because we are so used to telling others what to do, and so eager to demonstrate our value, we have a tendency to (no disrespect) talk and talk and talk.
Particularly when speaking to prospects, we can’t wait to reach the part of the conversation where we get to wow them with the length, width and depth of our experience and knowledge.
I think that’s a mistake. If you jump to answers before asking lots of questions, you’re shortchanging both yourself and your prospective clients.
… good questions provide clarity and focus.
In my experience, prospects typically arrive with a muddy sense of what’s wrong and an even muddier sense of how to fix it. They have a pain (in my world, it’s almost always some flavor of “not enough clients”), but they don’t know how to diagnose it, let alone what to do about it.
Specific, probing questions – What’s not working? How long have you had this problem? How have you tried to fix it yourself? – help the other person see inside their own predicament.
You benefit, too. The more you ask, the more you understand how to customize whatever solution(s) might be needed. When you do finally respond, you can be more specific in your answer (even if the answer is, “I can’t help you”).
… good questions demonstrate how much you know.
When you go to an orthopedic surgeon to discuss the pain in your knee, they don’t just jump right in and begin telling you about the features of their new MRI machine.
Rather, a good doctor asks questions before handing over a diagnosis, many of which may make little sense to you as a non-medical person: Are you left-handed? Have you donated blood recently? By any chance, do you own a small dog?
To you, these may seem random. To the doctor, they are a way of drilling down and getting to the heart of the problem.
The more they ask, the more you realize that you are in the presence of an expert – someone who has seen this problem and others like it, before.
… good questions change the tone of the conversation.
Earl’s simple question and my response to it gave him the confidence to move forward. Good questions are like that – they can change the entire feel of the interaction.
When speaking to a prospective client – even the ones who reach out to you – you have to remember that they are bracing themselves to be “sold to.”
When you invite them to speak first, rather than immediately launching into a long-winded overview of your Six Star Correlatory Optimization Formula, everything changes.
The more you ask, the more they relax. They start having a real conversation with you, instead of simply defending against the always-be-closing onslaught.
Here’s the bottom line.
As professionals, we spend a lot of time fine-tuning the words we use to describe the work we do. It’s almost like a little parlor game we play when we all get together, offering suggestions to each other on which word or phrase might sound better.
All of it’s important – if people don’t understand what you do, they’ll never hire you.
But, when you’re meeting one-on-one with a prospect, talking about yourself is not the place to start.
Instead, ask questions – lots of them. You’ll benefit, your prospect will benefit, and if all goes well, you might even end up with a terrific new, used car to drive home in.
- Are you left-handed?
- Have you donated blood recently?
- By any chance, do you own a small dog?