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January 29, 2013

Don’t Assume. Ask.

Source: amazon.com via Sallie on Pinterest

Why did the chicken cross the road?

To get to the other side? To show the possum it could be done?
 
I don’t know. I’d have to ask the chicken.

Assumptions lead us into dangerous territory. When we assume, we’re often wrong and we make the mistake of lumping this customer with every other customer we’ve come across in the industry. No one wants to be generalized. No one wants to be “shoulded,” or told what to do. They want to discover the best solution for their challenges—and with your help, they can.

But you have to ask.

Questions invite conversation and elicit information, including a preliminary estimate of value. Statements, on the other hand, invite contradiction. That’s just how we’re wired. So the better you become at asking intelligent questions, the more successful you will be in aligning with the customer and bringing value.

Sometimes it’s as simple as rephrasing. For example, turning “We could help you…” into “Would it help if you could?” invites the customer to reflect and comment rather than bracing himself to be “sold.”

Sometimes it’s as simple as pausing before we blurt out our opinion to rephrase it in a way that encourages the customer to express his opinion. During the pause, the customer may add information or ask a question that helps us better understand the situation.

I’m not saying you should never make a statement. As an intelligent and experienced professional, your opinions and your knowledge bring value to the discussion and to the customer. Timing, however, is critical. With skillful questions you can help the customer discover for himself the value of your capabilities and then you have established a context in which you can share your experience and ensure the customer has a successful outcome.

It’s always about the customer.

First, do they have a goal? Is it measurable? And have we taken the time to find out what it is?

Second, are they willing to change? Is this achieving this goal enough of a priority for them to commit time and resources to achieving it? Have we helped them develop a vision of how they could achieve it using our capabilities?

Third, have you and the customer agreed on the value that achieving this goal will provide? If not, it will be hard for them to justify committing effort or resources toward the change.

While these fundamental concepts may seem obvious, the skill to achieve these steps requires constant practice. A golfer doesn’t improve his swing by reading a book. A quarterback doesn’t develop his arm in the locker room. Time, effort and practice are essential to mastering any skill.

So let’s start with the basic question: How do you know if the customer has a goal, is willing to change, and sees value in the effort?

Ask.

 

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Ed: Brianna Bemel

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