We know effective questioning is critical for sellers and leaders. Virtually every training program provides some instruction on questioning. But too often, we may be asking the wrong questions–both of our customers, people, and of ourselves.
I’ve written, frequently, how we tend to ask the wrong questions of our customers. Usually, our questions focus on getting us the answers and information we need to serve our purpose, booking a deal! We have our normal BANT oriented questions, we ask about budgets, we ask about decision-making processes, decision-making authority, their needs, when they are making a decision. We ask what they are looking for in a solution, who they are considering, and their priorities when they assess the alternatives. We focus on questions that help us develop and execute our sales strategies, though they may not be helpful to the customer trying to address a business issue or opportunity.
We ask the questions that are, in theory, helpful to us; but in reality are neither helpful to the customer nor really helpful to us. If the customer doesn’t know what they are doing or how to buy, then the quality of their answers may not be helpful to us. If the customer is struggling to define what they are trying to achieve, how they should do it, who should be involved, questions they are asking themselves, questions they should be asking, and so forth; their responses to our normal questions will be the best they can provide at a point in time, but, inevitably will change as they learn more in their buying journey. And we see this all the time!
Before we can get quality answers to the questions we are most concerned about, we have to help the customer make sure they are considering the right questions of themselves, what/why they want to change, what it means, the risks, what they hope to achieve, what they should be looking for, who they should be considering, how they will organize/align themselves to change, and so forth. Only when they start getting clarity on these issues, can they begin providing us thoughtful responses to our questions, And as they continue their learning journey, their answers to those questions are likely to change.
As a result, we serve both our customers’ and our interests better, when we help them ask and answer the right questions for themselves, then get the information/answers that are most helpful for us.
Likewise, when we are coaching our people, we tend to ask the questions, if we ask questions, that are most helpful to us, but often not helpful to our people. We seek information about deal progress, pipelines, activities, and so forth. We tend to ask closed ended questions like, “Are you hitting your call goals, do you have enough in your pipeline, are you making your number?” Our questions inform us about the state of the business, and we ask them those questions to answer the same questions from our managers. We tend not to spend the time asking better questions like, “Are we chasing the right types of opportunities? What are our customers trying to achieve, why is it important to them, why do they feel they need to change, what happens to them if they don’t? What can we do to help the customer through their buying process? How do we help the customer make sense of what they are doing? How do we help improve their decision confidence? What should we be doing with them next, why, with who?” Or questions like, “What help do you need? What resources are most helpful to your efforts? What can I do to help get things done within our own organization?”
Our questions tend to focus on our need to assess the state of the business, whether our people are going to achieve their goals and the risk we face in achieving our overall goals. And too often, the answers to these questions are in our reports and CRM systems, but we waste people’s time by not looking at the reports.
Beyond this, we tend not to ask questions about our people’s goals, long term development, dreams and aspirations. We don’t seek to understand how we create meaning for them in the work they are doing.
And then there are the questions we ask of ourselves. Too often, we get caught up in our day to day, habitual routines. We run on autopilot, even when being on autopilot doesn’t drive success. We don’t pause to think, “Am I focusing on the right things? What if I changed my priorities? What if I change what I’m doing? What could I do better or differently? Is there a better way to achieve my goals?” Or we fail to pause and reflect on the questions that are most important to us and our lives, “What am I looking for (at least for the present) in how I spend my time and my job? Am I growing as an individual? Am I working for an organization that cares for me? Am I surrounding myself with people that can help me learn and develop? Am I contributing to the growth and success of my colleagues, my family, my community? Am I doing the things that create meaning for me?” The answers to these will always change, over time and as we grow as human beings. But they are important to live fulfilling lives. And too often, we don’t take the time to reflect and challenge ourselves on these.
It’s not that some of the more tactically oriented questions I’ve questioned in the preceding paragraphs are unimportant, but there may be more important questions we must first pose, and the answers to those questions may change the answers to the more tactically oriented questions.
If we fail to ask the right questions–or even better questions, we fail to achieve what we could–whether it’s with our customers, our people, or ourselves.