(Part 1 of 3)
Great leaders spend their time looking forward and inspiring their team to build an exciting future. These leaders actively embrace curiosity and reward people that ask great questions rather than ones that offer quick answers.
Your customers are similar. They focus on their future challenges and opportunities. Curiosity about your customer’s business is the first step to building trust. If you ask uninspiring questions, you get superficial responses. But if you ask insightful questions that grab your customer’s attention, they may say “That’s interesting. I’d never thought of it that way.”
Congratulations, you’ve begun a true dialogue with your customer and taken the first step to building trust.
What are the attributes of great questions?
Perhaps we can begin with the antithesis of great questions—surveys. Sure, surveys have their place, confirming, with greater accuracy, what you already know. But surveys don’t engage the customer or open an exploration of the potential—that is, how you and your customer might expand your relationship for mutual benefit. That is firmly in the domain of great questions.
To create great questions and powerful customer conversations, embrace these six principles:
- Do your homework. Understand the customer’s business by reading their Annual Report, the competitors’ Annual Report, industry reports, and recent executive interviews. Demonstrate through your choice of language and research, that you understand their marketplace. Work with your customer's internal experts, to build hypotheses on how your products, services and core capabilities can address their key business needs.
- Craft short, open-ended questions. ‘What if’ questions, such as “what if you could…” –are a great way to explore the full potential of addressing a business need. And allows the customer to discover their own insights.
- Ask clarifying questions. “What would that mean to your business?” or “What is a better use of that person’s time?” or even simply “Why?” are great ways to drill down to the business impact.
- Avoid problem solving. Don’t jump the gun with a solution before you fully explore the issue. If the customer suspects you are just selling, they will shut down the conversation and withdraw their trust.
- Stay curious. Actively listen for new ways your customer can use your products, other groups that may be impacted by your solution, or new opportunities you can help your customer unlock.
- Be comfortable with silence. Give your customer time to think and provide a thoughtful answer. For a busy executive, time to reflect can be a real gift.
You know you’ve created a great set of questions if your customer talks more than you do. The best conversations are an exchange of ideas and build out the framework and benefits of addressing a business need.
Share your insights with your colleagues. The more you refine and expand your outside-in customer understanding, the stronger your customer relations will become. Building this foundation of trust is key to long-term profitable relationships.
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