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Asking The Wrong Questions!

by David Brock on August 11th, 2021

Our engagement strategies are, too often, failing us. I suspect it’s because we are asking the prospects (and perhaps ourselves) the wrong questions.

At the lowest level of execution, we ask if they are interested in learning about our products or solutions. Or sometimes we are presumptive and tell them, without their asking.

We are taught to ask about needs, but getting answers to those questions means the customer is actually fairly advanced in their buying journey. They have, through other sources, learned enough to be able to articulate their needs.

We are taught to ask them about their problems, but that assumes the customer can articulate and define their problems. And even if they can, the ability to articulate the problems they want to address doesn’t necessarily mean they have a need to buy. Defining a problem they need to solve, being able to articulate what they are trying to achieve and why it’s important, doesn’t mean they are in a buying cycle. They may have alternatives to buying. They may not be at the point of their problem solving journey where buying is part of the process.

We ask them these questions with the singular purpose of using those answers to sell. We are trained and driven to sell. The selling conversation changes the focus from the customer to us, our products, and solutions. But the selling conversation isn’t necessarily the most useful conversation to have with our customers.

We have playbooks giving us the questions and questioning strategies, all oriented to get the information we need to better sell to the customer, but not necessarily oriented to giving the customer the answers they really need.

The problem with most of our questioning strategies is they are focused on gaining information useful to us. They help us develop our strategies, they help us figure out what we might do, how we might pitch.

But do our questions help the customer?

Perhaps the best questions have little to do with our needs for information, but are more focused on helping the customer figure things out.

What questions should the customer be asking themselves? These change based on where the customer is in their process. Some of the questions may incite a prospect who doesn’t recognize the possibility of changing to consider that question. Some of the questions are based on the prospect’s role. The questions a finance person might need to be asking themselves and their peers are probably different from those a user might ask or those a technologist might ask.

The questions customers are/should be most concerned about, change based on where they are in their journey. They may not have started, they may be at the very early stages of defining the changes they need to make and why. They may need to learn about how others look at/deal with these issues.

Most of their questions, at least early on, will be more about the problem–not about solutions.

At some point, the questions may be about solutions—but they may not yet be “buying,” because solutions the customer considers may not involve buying.

The customer will ask themselves and others questions seeking answers to the things they don’t know, but need to learn.

And then there are the things the customer doesn’t know they don’t know. What questions should we be asking to help the customer recognize what they don’t know, but should?

The customer will never be able to answer our questions until they have first asked themselves the questions most important to them. And these questions have little do do with us and our solutions until they have gotten to the point of looking to buy a solution. But if they don’t ask themselves those questions, they may never get to the point of making a decision to buy–which means they and we have lost an opportunity to improve.

Perhaps we are most helpful, perhaps we create the most value when we focus on the questions the customer needs to ask and the answers they need to discover, before we focus on the questions we need to ask in order to sell.

Are we asking the right questions? Is our customer asking the right questions?

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