This month we’re going to talk all about questions since they’re a very important part of running a good consulting business. If you want to earn more you need to start asking better questions so you can find the true problems a prospect has with their business. Without good questions you’re not going to find the second and third levels of value for the project.

It’s only with those deeper problems and deeper levels of value that you can really knock your earnings into overdrive by charging for the value you bring to an organization.

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The thing is, most people don’t really know how to ask good questions. If they do ask a decent question they don’t know how to just sit and listen to the answer without rushing in to say something. Most times you’re just waiting for your turn to speak instead of really engaging with what the prospect is saying and coming up with the next good question.

Today we’re going to talk about some overall best practices in asking good questions. Later in the month we’re going to look at specific questioning methods you can use in the course of conversations with your prospects.

Yes or No

The whole point to your call with a prospect is to build trust. Trust enables you to discover deeper levels of value and deeper problems in their organization. The only way to get this trust and to get these deeper levels of value is to learn to ask good questions.

When I’ve listened to recordings of my coaching clients talk to their prospects I’m continually surprised with the number of questions they ask that the prospect can answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

I’ve got a five-year-old that’s generally very talkative and bubbly unless you ask her about school. If I ask her if she had a good day I get ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with nothing else. I want to know what’s going on with her and how she’s experiencing school. To get those answers I don’t ask her if she had a good day. I ask her what she did that day, and since she’s not yet a teenager she doesn’t say ‘nothing’ — she tells me stories about playing with her friends, which is what I wanted to hear. Sometimes I even just ask her how dinosaur wrestling went, and after a smile she tells me about her day, which doesn’t include dinosaur wrestling.

You don’t just want technical details from your prospects, you want to hear about their dreams for the business. You want to hear about their fears for the business. You want to hear about their biggest pain points in their business.

The only way you’re going to learn that the business owner hasn’t taken a vacation in years because they have no systems people can execute on is to ask them good questions.

Open Ended Questions

Many people have heard of open vs. closed questions. Closed questions are those that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. They stop the conversation in its tracks because they steal the momentum of the discussion.

You don’t want to use closed questions.

Open-ended questions are ones that fuel the momentum of the conversation. Like when I talk to my daughter instead of asking if she had a good day I ask what she did. For your prospects instead of asking if they need a new website ask why they need a new site.

When you’re starting your conversation with a prospect you should be asking many, many open-ended questions like:

  • Why do you need this?
  • What changes will it bring to your business?
  • What do you think the biggest hurdle with the project will be?
  • Tell me why other projects have failed?

Funneling Questions

These types of questions are used to lead from a more general understanding of a topic to an understanding of a specific point. The deeper you go with these questions the more detail you’re pulling out about a specific point.

Moving from our first open question above, “Why do you need this work?” we may find out that the client’s business has dropped recently. A follow-up funneling question would be to ask them why the business has dropped. Then maybe what competitors appear to have kept business strong.

Probing Questions

Another way to get more detail about a topic from a prospect is to use probing questions. Usually these come out in the form of questions about deadlines, or asking who is in charge of a certain area of the project.

One of the more well-known set of probing questions are the 5 Why’s which I’ll talk specifically about later this month.

Your initial interview with prospects and any interview about a project should bounce between open questions and funneling or probing questions. When an open-ended question yields a topic that needs more detail start asking questions about that area specifically, then return to your original line of questioning about the project.

Simply thinking about asking open questions is going to yield better answers from your prospects so you can find more value to provide for them.

photo credit: fourbrickstall cc