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Question Time?

A Business Associate and I visited the Sales Head of a large organisation. We were trying to understand in detail what the client expected from the training program planned for the Distribution Team. It was important before designing the program and finalizing the content that we understand the client’s expectation from the proposed intervention.

Our plan was to ask a set of pointed questions that would help to bring to light their business objectives for the year, the current state of affairs and where they expected the team to be post the intervention. We also wished to know what was blocking their path in the push towards the goals set for the year.

Consultants pride themselves with the belief that they are experts at asking the right questions!

After introductions and the preliminaries my friend asked: Mr. Gupta, can you tell me what are your pain points?

Mr. Gupta explained in great detail the operational issues and the employee related issues that he felt needed correction.

My associates next question – Are those your real pain points?

A pained expression flashed on Mr. Gupta’s face and then he gathered composure to say – “From my understanding of the situation and analysis of data those are the issues that are blocking growth.”

My associate then went for the killer punch – “So you are saying that if those issues are resolved your pain points will be cleared?”

I noticed from Mr. Gupta face that he was experiencing a new kind of pain and he wanted it eliminated quickly. But I must admit that he showed great control and said with a smile – “Yes!”

I intervened and changed the subject with another question – the meeting went as expected and we managed to get answers required to take us to the next stage.

Often in our enthusiasm to meet Call Objectives we forget about the other party and fail to see the impact of our words on others. The missionary zeal with which my friend was pursuing the answers had an adverse impact on our client. Since the Sales Head  was a very mature person the he held his temper and answered with a lot of courtesy and decorum; another person would have exploded in anger – “Didn’t you hear me the first time?” or “You think I was lying the last time?” could have been possible responses.

The sequence of questions and the number of questions that need to be asked during the meeting are extremely important and need to be planned carefully. Ask the wrong question and you will fail to get all the answers you expected. Ask too many questions and it start sounding like a Police Investigation and the client will either get irritated or stop responding altogether.

Be prepared to change tack based on the situation and try to keep the mood of the discussions positive all the time. If it gets too intense you can always call for a break and if there is a lot to be done you may suggest that the work can be completed in the next sitting.

It’s important that the questions are asked and all the answers collected – insufficient information will impact the final product and that won’t do you any good.

But phrasing and timing of questions is a fine-art that needs to be perfected in order to get best results!

  1. July 19, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    That is a valuable lesson. Some people do get amazingly tactless in their enthusiasm at times. Good you let the gentleman off the crucifix quickly.

    • JayadevM
      July 19, 2012 at 6:50 pm

      Ha! Ha! Right, Umashankar.

      I have not been reading your blog in recent times – running around a bit – will catch up soon. Regards.

  2. jaishvats
    July 19, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    Well said jayadev and that applies in so many places . Not just business . Moreover if someone can give all definite answers to u on a platter he may notneed ur services at all rt ?

    • JayadevM
      July 20, 2012 at 3:15 am

      Hi Jayashree

      That’s right… relevant in any situation. Part of good social skills and smart business skills.

      I like what you said.. if he has all the answers we aren’t needed.


  3. July 21, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Interesting one! Having good presence of mind is a blessing!

    • JayadevM
      July 21, 2012 at 6:23 pm

      You are right, Roshni!

  4. Jamy
    July 22, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    Hi Jay, this is one area where people like me in the hospitality industry can always improve while dealing with customer issues as well as when trying to customise packages to suit different types of guests. It would also be well worth a few minutes or hours to do some homework about cultural practices of people from different regions of the globe while dealing with international clientele. Topic very close to my heart Jay!

    • JayadevM
      July 23, 2012 at 4:04 am

      Hi Jamy,

      That is true … in high involvement decisions like Vacations, Holidays and Conferences there are so many things to be covered – a lot of emotions are attached. So the seller needs to ask the right questions in order to deliver the most satisfactory solution, time after time.

      Thank you for reading.

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