The quality of your result is directly proportional to the quality of conversations that you have. The quality of your conversations is directly proportional to the quality of questions that you ask. That applies not only to business, but life in general. It’s used a great deal in selling and also in consulting. And learning leaders often do a great deal of selling and consulting.
As they attempt to figure out the needs of their business partners, a good question for learning executives to ask is, “What makes a good question?” The answer is fairly simple. Good questions do more than gain the right information. Good questions also build bonding and rapport and reinforce trust.
There is more to what makes a question a good question. Here’s the key.
Good questions are always asked for the prospect’s benefit, not yours. Of course, in the end, all questions are asked for your benefit. But they must be valuable and help the person you’re working with; otherwise, the questions will be perceived as manipulative. When the questions are perceived as manipulative, you lose rapport, and whatever you’re trying to accomplish rolls downhill.
Good questions help lead the other person to the answer that makes the most sense. Good questions also help them make a decision one way or the other. Don’t be fooled: Just asking for a decision may not be a good question. Here’s why.
“If I can show you a way to save money, will you get on-board today?” That is a tired, 1970s-style decision question. It is too much of a trap. Today, that style of question simply doesn’t work because it kills rapport and trust. Although some may think it leads the prospect to a decision, those tactics usually lead the prospect to a “no.” If you haven’t developed the problem and established enough trust and rapport, the “Will you buy today?” approach only drives people away.
After all, whom is that question for? Is that for you or the person you’re working with? When a salesperson asks a self-serving question, the balance in bonding and rapport diminishes. Trust decreases. Chances of getting the truth or a real answer also diminish.
When the question is asked for the other person’s benefit, the reverse occurs. Trust increases. Bonding and rapport improve. The chance of getting the truth is much better.
Knowing when someone needs a new solution also is important. Even if you know how decisions get made, that doesn’t guarantee you know when they will decide. So you’ll need to completely understand motive.
For now, let’s assume you have motive. How can you ask a good question about when a decision will be made? We know the “If I do this, will you buy today?” is not the right approach. But what about something like this? “If you decided that we were the ones to do this for you, when would you like it done?”
While that is a little better, that question is still for the sales rep, not for the prospect. Instead of one question, you’ll need a sequence of questions. It starts with the end in mind and moves backward. It might go like this: “Let’s pretend this problem is big enough to solve and you want to do something. When would you like to be able to start measuring the results? To measure those results, when would you have to implement this? What is the process around here for getting something like this implemented? If you did implement this, how far in advance would you have to get this approved? Adding in the delivery times, when would it make sense for you to complete your decision process?”
As you think about the questions you ask, really examine if they are for you or the business leader. If they are for your prospect, you’ll build rapport and trust and get the information you need to prioritize your time and focus your efforts and resources.
Ask self-serving questions and you’ll serve yourself, not the prospect. Ask questions for the prospect and you’ll become a prospecting genius. And you’ll serve up better results.