I know an executive in a major oil company who regularly meets with outside professional service providers as part of his job. He once told us that there were only three types of coaches and consultants who would visit his office…
- The talkers who felt compelled to tell him all about themselves and their companies with little or no time left for anything else.
- The pitchers who had a canned presentation that rarely varied.
- The third types were the listeners who talked very little and had no prepared presentation. They sought to ask questions and probe in an effort to understand the need and how they may be able to be of service. In fact, the best ones asked questions he had not thought about before. Those folks were always welcome in his office!
How do you ask questions they’ve not considered before?
Sophisticated buyers of professional services have little tolerance for dog and pony shows. You have to know your business. You have to know their industry. You have to know something about their organization. Any time you spend on developing questions like this will pay handsome dividends. I often work with financial services executives. I understand that a consistent issue in their business is the fact that a large portion of their production comes in the fourth quarter of the year. It is a big stressor for them as they worry that they will miss their annual numbers if something goes wrong during that 12 week period.
I ask them a question… “How do you know if your team is prepared for the next 90 days?” It stops many of them in their tracks because they have never thought about it in that way before. It’s never intended to be an embarrassment to the prospect, but only a way to help them understand how I can better help them.
Once you believe that you have determined what their situation actually is, feed the issue back to the prospect. Frame it by asking still another question… “Is what I hear you saying… such and such?” If they agree, you know you are on the way to getting a commitment.
Only then should we thoughtfully propose or present anything to a prospect!