The 10 Worst Probing Questions

Every time I work with an executive or a sales team, I stress the importance of probing questions. They are open-ended questions that get you to a deeper level of understanding of your client’s business. They also give you a subtle opportunity to show that you’ve done your homework by asking well-researched questions. Feedback I get from business leaders is they wish more people would take the time to ask these types of questions since they lead to far more productive questions.

I’ve already written a blog post about probing questions (click on that link to read it!). But, there are good ones and bad ones. The latter is my focus right now since I’ve heard so many of them lately! So, here are the worst ones:

  1. How’s business? You should know this already. At the very least, you should understand industry trends and market conditions affecting your client’s business. You may not know the particulars of their business, but you should be able to have an intelligent conversation about the industry.
  2. What are your goals for this year? If you’ve done your due diligence, including talking to lower-level executives and studying the industry, you should have a pretty good idea about their goals. And don’t most company’s goals boil down to a) grow the business, b) increase sales, and c) reduce expenses? You need to get to why they haven’t achieved those goals yet.
  3. Who is your competition? Now you’re just being lazy. Google the business and the industry. Check out LinkedIn. Find news articles and quotes from company executives. The internet has made all of that information readily available so, find it!
  4. What makes your product good? Again, a basic homework chore. If possible, try the product. Seek out reviews of the company and its service. Study how they present their product or service on their web site and social media. You can easily determine what THEY think their advantage is, whether that’s accurate or not.
  5. Has your product been successful in the past? First, this is a close question easily answer with “yes” or “no.” Second, you need to know this ahead of time. It’s history…look it up! If you can’t find out on your own, find people connected to the industry and ask their opinion. You can use what they say as part of your presentation later on, again demonstrating your tenacity in researching this client.
  6. Who is your customer? “Everybody. Next question!” It is critical that you know who their customer is so that when you are presenting your recommendations, you know you are touching key points that address key needs of their customers. Social media postings are a great source of information and tone regarding how a company interacts with its customers. Use it to find out who they are targeting.
  7. Is there anyone else in the company I need to see? Translated: I want to know if there is someone more important than you I should have met with! There is almost always someone else to see. But you need this first contact to help shepherd you through the process. Better to ask “Who else would be appropriate for me to meet to determine their opinion as we move forward together?”
  8. Would you like this information that I prepared for you? If you didn’t think they needed it, why did you prepare it? Likely, you believed that it was useful so, give it to them. The only time not to is if, in the course of your discussion, you determine that some of the information is off the mark and now doesn’t make your points strongly. In that case, offer to edit the information you prepared and get it to them quickly.
  9. Do you have a sense of the problems your company faces this year? Some might think this a good question. I don’t. Of course they know the problems they are facing…it’s what keeps them up at night! But, if you probe about long-term issues and immediate problems, now you have an opportunity to solve the latter quickly and partner on the former over the long haul.
  10. What do you see as the next step? If they were honest with you, they might say, “Well…probably we will all say goodbye here and then I will walk out to about 100 new problems that have come up since we’ve been talking. It’s unlikely I’ll remember this meeting at the end of the day.” YOU need to know the next steps and strongly present them, letting them know you will be managing the follow up and driving this to a conclusion. Most clients appreciate someone who can take the proverbial ball and run with it.

Avoid these questions and you’ll be a step ahead of your competition (who are likely asking some or all of them!).

Which of these are you going to eliminate from your next client encounter? Let me know by replying below. – SG

Networking Do’s and Don’ts

Your boss says: “Make sure you go to this event tonight, its an important opportunity to network.”

You say, “Ugh, really?”

I say, “Go! You never know what’s going to happen or what it will be like. But only go if you’ll have fun doing it!” Read more

Before You Call: 3 Questions to Ask Yourself

numbers on a gray phoneEmail. Text. Chat. Voicemail. All of these have become common ways in which we communicate with clients and business associates. But what about the big one…the phone call! Lost in our digital age is the importance a phone call can have in determining the future of your business relationships. And yet, many times I’ve witnessed seasoned executives as well as new sales people stumble when faced with talking with their clients.

Three Key Questions Before Calling

Many people have a deep fear of public speaking. So it is no surprise that the phone call, which itself is a mini-form of public speaking, can be intimidating. To help build confidence, I advise that people ask themselves three key questions prior to picking up the phone:

1) How am I memorable?

There must be something that sets your company and its product/service apart from your competition. Do you know what is? And is that based on up-to-date information? What advantages do you bring to the table? This question forces you to uncover the core of who you are and why your offering is worth sharing with your client. Bullet point the key selling points and have them in front of you before calling.

2) Am I prepared?

What will your client, or prospective client, want to know? This requires homework since you will need to know their current challenges. Are you bringing relevant information to them that will help alleviate one or more of those challenges? If not, then why are you taking up their time? You need to be on top of the business landscape in which your client operates. Not doing so relegates this phone call to being just like any other your client has gotten. Remember…you need to be memorable (see above!).

Another thing to consider when preparing is…are you ready to talk with the boss? Various scenarios could unfold that have you speaking to the CEO or another executive in charge. For example, your client contact could answer and, by chance, have the CEO in the room. Is what you have to say today CEO-worthy? It should be and good preparation to that level will pay off regardless.

3) What do I want to happen?

Wow…if you don’t know the answer to this one before picking up the phone, you’re sunk! However, if you know what you want the result of the call to be, then it will be easier for you to make that happen. What goal have you set for the call? Is it consistent with your client’s goals? “I want to tell him about our new product” is not good enough. That’s about you, not them. “I want to solve their inventory management problem with our new product that will save them time and money” is a far better goal, right?

Phone calls have become a bit of a rarity these days. Be different. Call! But be sure you answer these questions first.

How often do you call your clients? Do you find it more, or less, effective than digital communication? Let me know. -SG

Fearless Probing Questions

questions-1151886-640x480In my last post, I listed the 10 Worst Questions to Ask a Client. So, what questions should we be asking? Given the pressures so many of have on producing results it’s important to understand that the pressures we have, our clients have, too.  Therefore, to “serve” clients as an adviser, not a vendor, you must probe your clients with intimate questions, NOT peripheral ones.

Nice vs. Fearless Questions

I’ve got to acknowledge Ellen, my spouse for labeling this action with the term, fearless questions.
Its perfect for our conversation. You either have the confidence and homework done to ask fearless questions or you don’t. Asking these questions positions you as a determined solution provider by your veracity.

Too many consultants/business developers desire being liked over being respected. Focus on asking questions that bring respect to you for your insight and prescience.

Fearless questions make you deliberate and empathetic at the same time. To resolve the pressures your clients face you need to adopt these fearless questions into your repertoire.

Here’s an example:

Nice Question: What are your goals this year?

Fearless Question: From my research I see that your organization is rebranding itself, why is this essential now, given your competitive set?

Nice Question: What’s your plan to increase your market share?

Fearless Question: How much has your share eroded from this market loss?

The point is to illicit an emotion form your client that GETS THE FACTS OUT. Being nice doesn’t.

Have you been fearless with your questions lately? Tell me how by replying below. – SG

Presentation Tips: Planning, Controlling and Closing

I’ve been coaching executives and sales teams for a while now. And I have found there are three main areas in which people have at least one weakness when it comes to presentations or sales calls. It’s either they aren’t planning their meetings well enough, they lose control of the meeting, or (in some case AND), they avoid closing for fear of “selling” or looking bad.

In this video, I take a look at all three:

If you watched that video and at any point said, “That’s me!”…don’t worry. I get that a lot when I talk about these three areas. Setting an agenda, staying in control of the conversation and then effectively closing are skills that, once developed, can help you produce stronger results. The three combined will help you be heard and create a relationship, which is paramount to gaining and keeping the trust of your clients. What you’ve also illustrated is a good degree of empathy towards your client and confidence to run a productive meeting. They will appreciate that, and you, in the long run.

What area resonates with you the most? Let me know by replying below. Thanks! – SG

Leaders…Think Before You Email

Communication of any type is always open to interpretation. Even face to face conversations are influenced by body language and other factors. Email is perhaps the most prone to misinterpretation as there is no auditory tone nor physical delivery. It’s just text.

So before you fire off an email, especially one that contains potentially tough information, here are four key To-Do’s BEFORE sending to insure that your intent is understood and accepted the way you want it to be:

#1: Know the Climate

You’ve got to know the climate into which you are sending your email. Is it friendly, hostile, or indifferent? And you’ve got to take responsibility for this environment. Ask yourself, if I’m him/her how would I react to this message? What would I intimate from it? Is there a deeper message here? You need to know where your reader is relative to your message. Will they still understand the “you” you want them to understand?

#2: Link Your Purpose to Your Reader’s Purpose

Often what you want and what your reader wants are two different things. By starting out with their purpose, you show your empathy. For example, if you want someone to stop procrastinating with an issue, initiate your message from the value moving it forward will have to them. What this does is it credentials you as an empathetic individual, reminding them that you are there to help achieve THEIR goals.

#3: See Their Reaction Before Their Reaction

You can do this. First, visualize how they’ll read your email, what they’ll think, and how they will react. Then, write it based on this visualization. Once you’re clear on how they will react, make sure they can self-realize your positive intent. If you see too many ways in which the message could be interpreted as counter to your intention, start over!

#4: Tailor Your Next Response

Yes, just like a chess match, know your next three responses from this communication. The more you understand your reader’s world, the easier it is to determine how they will respond. Remember, you are not communicating to yourself; you are communicating to another person with a different agenda than yours. Are you ready for resistance?  What do you believe it will be and what will be your reaction? Conversely, are you ready for acceptance and have your next steps lined up? This level of anticipation will increase your agility, building your reputation as a valued partner.

Try out these tips before your next difficult communique and let me know how it goes. At the very least, you will feel better as you send it, eliminating some of the anxiety that might have accompanied it otherwise!

Five Steps for Improved Client Communication

When most people think about client communication, they picture a presentation with slides, charts, bullet points, etc. However, most people I consult with rarely given a “formal” presentation. Rather, they are called upon to discuss an issue with a client or internal team. But that shouldn’t mean the communication is less important! It still takes preparation and attention to detail.

Whether you are delivering an internal update or an external new business presentation, these five steps will make your communications succeed:

Start with Your Audience’s Objectives

Too often people begin a presentation with background/history versus what their audience desires. Better to state at the start, “As you’ve said, your primary objective is to…”

Two of the most powerful words in persuading are the words ”you said.” It shows you’ve heard your client and realize the importance of their objective. It even helps when a client objects to your recommendation. Answering them with, “I understand your objection but, you said that ___ was important to you. Has something changed?” Now you’re going to get to the bottom of their objection and have new intel to make a revised recommendation!

Pinpoint the Obstacles

Be clear about the obstacles your clients have faced. State what’s prevented them from achieving their objective. This let’s them know you understand their situation and creates urgency to your recommendations. From there, you can collectively arrive at solutions. But you have to know the problem you are solving first, right?

Present an Agenda

Nothing controls a communication more than a clearly distilled agenda. It shows your homework has been done and your ready to edify people of your diligence. It also let’s you know whether you’ve given yourself enough time to achieve your meeting objective. So often, my clients say they run out of time when presenting their recommendations. I’ve found that poor time management begins when you don’t have an agreed upon agenda. Use one to organize your thoughts and ensure that you have plenty of time to accomplish what you set out to do.

Say “What this means for you…”

Once you’ve completed a point in your agenda, you’ve got to link it to your client’s world using this phrase. They may or may not do it on their own. Take the guess work out of it! Make sure that they can see that what you are recommending solves an issue for them. Make their life easier!

Present a Critical Path Forward

Ever leave a meeting not knowing whether you accomplished your goal or what the next steps are? It’s because you didn’t declare the next steps and get agreement on them from your audience. Always present a critical path forward. It says to your client, “here is the next step I’m putting forth for you to accept.” They may not accept it or, may suggest alternatives. But at least you will know where things stand.

Enjoy succeeding with these points and let me know how they’ve helped in the comments below.  Thank you!

Using Video for Training

Let’s go to the video tape!  Those of you in New York will recall this famous, often-used line by long time sportscaster Warner Wolf. I realize most of my clients would prefer to be chased by a wolf than be videotaped.
However, I must say that after 25 years of videotaping and coaching executives there is no medium like it!

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Five Steps of Persuasion

Persuasion is a good thing…in fact, it’s a great thing! However, that’s true only provided that you are persuading the right person or organization to accept an idea that will forward their business agenda along with yours. If you are doing it just so you can be right, then you are using this power the wrong way and, it’s unlikely to work. 

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