To understand our customers better we need to ask questions. Not just any questions, but questions that will help us understand more about the person we are talking to and to move us further forward toward achieving our objectives. We need to explore the areas that will give us clues as to what that person wants, what they’re looking for and what success looks like to them.
“Ask the right questions if you’re going to find the right answers.” – Vanessa Redgrave
To help us think about questions and what we should be asking and why, let’s explore a process for this and categorize the type of questions we might ask.
I would suggest that there are four types of questions and we’ll look at each of these briefly and explain what they are and how to use them.
The first is Confirmation Questions. These are used to validate data and reveal discrepancies. Whatever answers you get to Confirmation Questions they will always give you more up-to-date information than you could possibly have if you didn’t ask. They are used early in the meeting to makes sure nothing has changed since the last meeting, and there is agreement on the purpose of this meeting. You may even want to do both at the same time. Here is an example:
“So John, last time we met, we agreed we would run the promotion in July and we would focus on the diet range. Is that still your understanding of where we are and what we will discuss today?”
The second type of question is New Information Questions. These are used in our pre-meeting planning when we identify where we need more information of a specific nature to help us understand the customer’s situation. This maybe data, location of a factory, timing or when a decision may be made. They tend to use the 4 w’s and the h approach i.e. who, what, when, where and how. Here is an example:
“Tell me, if we were to incorporate the regular brands with the diets in the offer, would that change the timing for the promotion?”
The third type is Attitude Questions. This is where we focus on the customer’s gut feel. How they personally feel about what we are suggesting, rather than the results. Normally such questions will help reveal the personal reasons behind what the customer feels or thinks, and this will help build a picture of the Customers Notion that I wrote about last week.
The main reason for using attitude questions is to reveal what the customer’s mental picture is of what success looks like if they agree with our point of view.
We want to find out what they think and certainly not challenge their view. By the way, we can use these types of questions to ask the customer about the personal feelings of other people in their company as well. An example of an Attitude Question could be:
“John, at this point, how do you feel about the project and the promotion? Do you think it will work, and everyone will get on board?”
And the fourth and last type is Commitment Questions. As it implies, these types of questions are meant to get some form of commitment. However, they are not, as some assume, a way of closing the sale, as some old sales techniques used to call getting the order!
They are meant to tell us what level we have reached in the process of getting agreement. What still needs to be done to obtain full agreement and what sort of timing of events is still required to be completed. They are most often used towards the end of the meeting, as it will help us summarize where we are and what action is required for next steps. An example of a Commitment Question could be:
“OK, so from what I’m hearing, you agree we can run a promotion on regular and diet brands, and still stick to the July timing. Can I go ahead and confirm that to my management?”
There is a range of questions we can use as tools to help us both move the conversation along, and identify where we are in the process of reaching an agreement, as well as developing the relationship.
Questions should be well thought out and prepared, and if used properly will help us better understand our client, and build more informed and sincere based strategic relationships.
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Peter M. Beaumont is a Management Consultant, Founder of ConnXN and is a Consultant for Pivotal Advisors. He is the author of the best selling book “The Relationship Roadmap” and works with managers of B2B companies to increase profits quicker by managing Strategic Accounts differently. See more at www.ConnXN.net