In which we are reminded not to answer questions before we fully understand their intent.
“Will this consulting project address segment boundaries,?” one of the executives in the room asked.
I smiled and gently replied, “No, that’s not our focus here today.”
Without breaking eye contact with me, he smiled tightly and continued: “Well, the reason I ask is….” and he described his concerns. They were good concerns.
As I was listening, my Voice in the Head shouted, “May Day! May Day!” and warning lights flashed everywhere. Ah-OOOO-ga. Ah-OOOOO-ga. “May Day!”
Why “May Day?”
Because he wasn’t asking for information, he was signaling me, and my polite and well-intended, conversation-focusing answer created an objection: “Well… If this engagement doesn’t address segment boundaries, I won’t support it fully.” From that point forward, in his opinion, I was playing “catch up.” I had lost his trust.
So, how could I have answered with a trust-building response, starting in the same moment?
HIM: “Will this engagement address segment boundaries?”
ME: “Ah, good question. Sounds like that’s an important concern for you.”
HIM: “Yes, it is….blah blah blah
ME: ”So your concern is that you want your sales representatives to … blah blah blah.
HIM: “Yes, because… blah blah blah.
At that point I could have…
- Asked others in the group, “How do you feel about this concern?”
- Said, “Here’s how we could address your concern” and share options for discussion.
- Deferred, saying, “Great concern, let me think about it for a few minutes and come back to it.”
Any one of those answers would have increased rapport, connection, momentum, and trust.
Moral of the story: ANY time a prospect or client asks a question about our products or services or industry conditions, anything more substantive than “Would you like something to drink?”, learn first what’s behind the question:
- “What prompts you to ask?” (Or, “For what reason do you ask?”)
- “Sounds like that’s an important concern.”
- “That’s interesting. Tell me more….”
- “How do others feel about ___ ?”
- “When you say _____, what do you mean?”
Unless we understand the point of view or question behind the question, we’re more likely to give a “wrong” answer than we are to give a “right” one. Don’t be too quick to answer.