Watching reporters on the TV news can be a good learning exercise—in what NOT to do. They stick a microphone in the face of a flood victim and ask, “What does it feel like to lose your home and all your priceless possessions?” (Are they expecting, “It feels great”?) They ask a teen whose father has just returned from the war in Afghanistan, “Have you missed having your dad at home this past year?” (Are they expecting, “No, not much. Hardly noticed he was gone”?)
But you have to cut reporters some slack. After all, they probably got the assignment 20 minutes before going on air. If you’re giving a sales presentation, however, a short timeline can’t be the excuse.
Some questions annoy people for their lack of a clear purpose. They seem intrusive at worst and pointless at best.
“So tell me a little about your operations now—what’s automated and what’s not?” A typical, but weak, approach for opening a sales presentation. If you start your discussion with a question, focus it and explain the benefits or the point of knowing the answer. To customers or colleagues, focused questions—not broad ones—will seem worth the effort to answer.
To be persuasive, ask a question that showcases a benefit: “How much time do your engineers spend in preparing these charts each month?” Follow up with this explanation: “This software package can generate such a chart with fewer than six keystrokes.” Raise a question: “Do your managers look forward to performance-appraisal conferences?” Give a response: “Our consultants can identify performance problems objectively with this survey before these problems lead to termination.”
Sometimes this questioning technique alone is the difference between having prospects tune out what they perceive as a formal, canned sales “pitch” and what they consider a consultative approach, specific to their needs.
Even though on social occasions we often lapse into a question-answer format to show interest in someone else’s experiences, we need to constantly remind ourselves of the need for structure and purpose with questions on the job.
Focus makes a big difference in whether you build rapport or destroy a relationship or opportunity—whether people are put off or persuaded by your ideas and information.
TV reporters are not working on commission; they can ask dumb questions with obvious answers. You shouldn’t.