Do you know when you’ve asked a good question? Answer: The person you’re talking to says, “Now that’s a good question!”
Is it a matter of asking better questions?
Most questioning starts well. Then goes off the track when, whatever the early response is, triggers an opportunity for the questioner to respond with their own input. As Stephen Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
There are models that help us structure our questions better.
Traditionally, at a basic level, we discuss Open, Probing and Closed questions. Perhaps you give these different titles, but I am confident you get the picture. The model is a basis for communication across the broadest possible range of situations. It’s useful when selling, managing, leading, in team communication and when there’s conflict or a negotiation of some sort going on.
At the next level you have a more targeted approach. The model we have adopted is called, GLAD, an acronym for Gather, Locate, Appreciate, Determine. It’s focus is on finding and solving problems.
In spite of these two approaches, all but the best salespeople, and we cannot assume that the 80% of our salespeople or managers who aren’t in this category, find questioning techniques difficult to use in the heat of battle. But more than this, even when employed well, they aren’t achieving the success they should.
Antiquated Techniques No Longer Sufficient
Why don’t the traditional models work? Most importantly, they are targeted at business goals. Improved ROI. Better performance. Lower cost. Competitive advantage. Sure they are important, but feature and benefit selling is overrated in an environment when competitive products and services are undifferentiateable.
In 2009, Joseph Pine in his book, The Experience Economy, talked about changes in the consumer market. He talked about Disney, Universal Studios and Starbucks providing an experience. You only have to go into an Apple Shop to feel this too!
It’s my hypothesis that business-to-business organisations need to heed the lessons of consumerisation, as that’s how businesses buy today.
Think about it. There’s little difference buying an item of capital equipment for your business than buying an air conditioner for your home. Salespeople tell me that their customers nowadays come to them with a researched shopping list. Or worse, they use the best supplier to sort out what they need, then purchase for the lowest cost.
So, businesses everywhere are at a crossroads. They need to provide an experience, rather than service. It’s not impossible, but extremely difficult to differentiate your offering from competitors based on service.
As Curley said in City Slickers – It’s just one thing
So, what’s the one element that people in business strive for? Trust. How do you build trust? You get to know your customer. Really know them. And here’s the nub of the problem. Traditional questioning techniques don’t go far enough. So, what you need is a next level of questioning. I call it Deep Questioning.
In an article by Jim Stone Ph.D , titled, “5 Communication Skills that Open People’s Minds, Stop debating and start dialoguing”, there are glimpses from the world of psychology that can help us ask deeper questions.
Deep Questioning Summary
The next time you’re in a discussion with someone about a controversial issue such as moving from a supplier who over years has earnt their loyalty. Or, they have had a bad experience with a similar purchase. Or, a previous representative from your business gave them grief, or there was an unexpected price rise from your company. Or they don’t have time to meet with you or hear you out – even when you do have a superior solution.
Then use this process:
- Establish common ground. You want move from debate mode to discussion mode.
- Learn their story. Don’t rationalise the argument. Listen to their story. Have you noticed how hard it is to interrupt someone who’s telling you their story?
- Make it safe for them to change their mind. You could have made the same decision they did, given the history. So, you too have a story to tell.
- Validate their experience and challenge their interpretations by offering alternative possibilities.
- Keep your outcome in mind.
Your Training Programs
Sales and Management training courses we run now have this added level of curriculum. Why not give us a call?