Enjoy asking

One of my favourite slogans is BBC News: “Never stop asking” .

According to the advertising agency Redbee that came up with the campaign “It’s a call to action which, like the proposition, was applicable to both the audience and BBC World News.”

I genuinely enjoy asking. I ask about things, I ask for things. I ask for directions. I ask if I don’t understand, and I ask to confirm that I’ve understood. Why would you not?

Most sales jobs I’ve done have featured some variant of the “weekly meeting”, where the boss gets to ask you questions about the latest deals you’re working on and you answer as best you can. I find these meetings fun, mostly. The times I don’t find them fun is when I don’t have an answer. The reason I don’t have an answer is because I haven’t asked the client enough questions.

If you think back to the last time you were in one of these meetings, I can almost guarantee that someone at some point said something along the lines of: “I think the client will make a decision by mid-next week” or “I think it has to go to the CEO to get signed and I think she’s out of town”.

This may come as news to you, but no-one is interested in your opinion. “I think” is just a nice way of saying “I don’t know so I’m trying to make up for it by articulating my hopes”.

Enjoy the uncomfortable

So what stops us asking? Why don’t we ask the client enough questions? After all, it’s not as if we don’t want to know the answer, is it? There are two main reasons. The first is easily overcome: The fear of getting a “no”. As the sales cycle moves forward, the amount of time and effort you’ve invested in a particular sale increases and the worse it feels when a client tells you no. So you avoid asking. Instead you tie yourself in knots using phrases like “let’s circle back in a couple of weeks when you’ve had more time”, or “how about you call me in a couple of weeks”.

Luckily this is quite easy to overcome. You have to celebrate the “no”. A closing is a closing, no matter what. I try to close 100% of my sales opportunities within two months. I don’t WIN all of them, not by a long way, but I CLOSE them. And I enjoy it. Every lost opportunity is one less thing to worry about. Do this, and I promise you the feeling of exhilaration is amazing.

The second reason is closely related to the first, of course, but much harder to overcome. You have to start enjoying asking questions about everything. Not just about the deal you’re working on. You have to be interested in the client, their company, their life and their job. And I mean interested.

Ask to the point of embarrassment

Once, my then girlfriend and myself had a car that broke down. So the tow-truck had to come and rescue us. It was about 40 minutes to the nearest town and the truck driver kindly offered us a lift. I’d never sat up high in a tow truck before and there were a huge amount of buttons, levers and dials in the truck. I wondered what these things did, so I asked. And I asked. And I asked some more.

At the end of the ride my girlfriend was livid with me. “That was so embarrassing. He must think we’re nuts. Why did you ask all that stuff?” Well, because I was interested. I am a curious person. More to the point, the truck driver said to me that he wished more people were as chatty as me. It made his day much easier. I learned a whole ton of things that I’d never thought of – like that his tow truck could pick up a bus, or that the big headlamps have a range of about 1000m.

Among other things I’ve learned by asking questions all the time are:

  • Jet fuel is measured in tonnes, not litres. (At a refuelling stop – “How many litres of fuel goes in this thing”)
  • Pathologists at hospitals get used to the smell. (I was at a hospital trying to sell a system for scanning medical records).
  • Eggs that are boiled, spin round. Raw eggs don’t. (“How can you tell if an egg is raw or not, without breaking it”)
  • Holding a connected spark plug while pulling the ignition cord on a lawnmower is really painful. (Yes I asked the question – yes I got to demonstrate on myself).

The secret that those of us who enjoy asking questions know, is that there is a positive flipside:

People love being asked questions and talking about themselves and what they are working on. Why? Because it saves them having to ask questions.

They really do. Go on, ask a colleague today, “hey, what are you working on” or some variant, and they will tell you. I promise.

Next time – enjoying prospecting

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