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It’s Not About The Questions, It’s The Conversation

by David Brock on July 20th, 2011

There’s a huge amount of discussion about questions in selling.  Entire books have been written about questions and questioning, questions are the focus of all sorts of training programs and fodder for thousands of blog posts (a few of which I’ve written myself).

But questions aren’t the fundamental issue–conversations are.  Questions are an important part of establishing a conversation, but I think focusing on questions creates an imbalance and may, in fact, detract from our ability to have conversations.

What’s critical in sales is establishing meaningful, high impact conversations with customers.  Those conversations are an exchange of information, ideas, opinions, and points of view.  It’s through conversations that we connect and engage our customers, (and others).

Think about it, when we get together with friends and colleagues we think about the conversation.  We don’t think about our questioning strategy for this weekend’s barbeque  (Though many years ago I did obsess about my pick up lines–but that’s a different discussion).  If we are having a team meetings, we don’t think about the mix of the open and close ended questions we ask–we think about the purpose of the meeting, the discussion we need to have, and how we achieve the goal of the meeting.

So why do we treat the customer call differently.  Why aren’t we focused on the quality of the conversation?  Why don’t we look at how we engage the customer in talking about something meaningful in achieving their goals?  Why don’t we start thinking about the conversation instead of just the questions.

Conversations are filled with all sorts of things–they’re the tools we need to leverage in engaging and connecting with our customers.  Questions are an important part of conversations—listening is more important.  In thinking about a meeting, what’s our listening strategy?  Probing, expressing an opinion, understanding and expressing points of view, pushing back, perhaps disagreeing at times—all are important elements of a conversation.  Conversation involve feelings, emotions, values.

We need to  think about all dimensions of a conversation.  We need to prepare ourselves to have a conversation and engage the customers.  We need to prepare ourselves to be part of the conversation, not just the back and forth of question-answer, question-answer.

Things to think about:

  • Do we know how to listen and hear? Do we know about active listening and do we practice active listening?
  • D o we have a point of view that is meaningful to the customer?  Do we have the courage to express it and push back–politely challenging the customer?
  • Are we prepared to hear the customer’s point of view and perhaps change our position?
  • Do we care about the conversation, or are we just looking to execute the next step to pitching our product and asking for the order.  We have to be interested in our customers–the organizations and the individuals.  They are not a transaction.
  • Are we capable of engaging in a conversation when it goes “off script?”  Do we even need a scipt, but can we be more thoughtful about our engagement?
  • Are we prepared to invest ourselves, as people, into the conversation?  We are asking the customer to invest themselves–to talk about their dreams, problems, and challenges.  We have to prepare to invest and reveal something about ourselves if we hope to engage the customer–what do we stand for, what do we value, why should the customer trust us?

It’s hard to get training in “conversations,” though you should look at Susan Scott’s work in  the book, Fierce Conversations.   But we can learn how to have powerful conversations.  We can study why the conversations on this weekend’s barbeque works–we can adopt some of the principles underlying those conversations.  We can look at why conversations amongst our peers and colleagues work, we can try the same with our customers.

For your next call, are you preparing your questions or are you preparing for a conversation?

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  1. Great post David. You’re absolutely right that we need to notice all aspects of the conversation.

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