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Why should we ask why?

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

I'm convinced that this is the single, most powerful question that anyone can ask. It can help enormously with building relationships, selling, developing products, designing systems and processes, and much, much more. Yet it is, for some understandable, but unhelpful, reasons, underused.

In a recent coaching session, my client and I ran a little role-play. I had the easy part - I was me - and she was a car salesman. First time round, she made the classic mistake (and she's fine with me sharing this - anonymously!):

Good morning. Can I help?

Yes, please. I'm looking for a new car.

Wonderful! Want are you after?

Well, I need an estate...

Great, well let me show you what we've got.

As I said, a classic mistake, and one that I'm certainly prepared to hold my hands up to and say I've committed in the past (and, let's be honest, will probably commit again). In my first sales training back in the dark ages, this was called solution hunting - offering a supposed solution to a customers need (or problem) far, far too early.

In this example, the salesman was in possession on one fact. Just one. She then started to make recommendations based on that single fact. If she was lucky, she'd have shown me an ideal car for me very soon, and neither of us would be any the wiser. More likely though, given the range of products on offer, she'd have shown me a series of unsuitable cars, and annoyed me because she wasn't "getting me". I'd have left; she'd have lost a sale.

So, how should it have gone? A little more like this:

Good morning. Can I help?

Yes, please. I'm looking for a new car.

Wonderful! Want are you after?

Well, I need an estate...

Great, we have a lot of those on offer. Why are you after an estate?

Ha! Three children, dogs, equipment to lug about for work, and a big trailer to tow as well!

Wow - I see! What else is important to you?

Oh you know, the usual comforts...really good heating and aircon is important.

Why's that?

My other half likes a warm car, so she can fall asleep on long journeys, but I need it cold to stay awake!

Right, so you're looking at dual zone climate control then. Anything else?

I do a lot of miles, so I want a good mix of economy and performance as well.

Why do you say "a good mix"?

My head says I need a 50mpg diesel; my heart says I still young and want to be able to cream most other cars on the road...

etc, etc, etc

Now that's all pretty obvious. By asking more about what someone whats, and why they want it, you develop a really rich understanding of their needs and desires. The richer the understanding, the greater the chance you have of impressing them with your perfectly tailored offering.

We don't always do this though...and the next article, here, will explore why we don't, and how we can ensure we do.

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