Who hasn’t been in a discussion with a client or prospect where, after 20 minutes, we find out they are well down the path and there is no need to continue the conversation? It can be incredibly frustrating to realize you’ve invested a lot of time you won’t get back.
Speaking of time and with little of it left in the year, it’s important to make sure that time spent is productive for both you and your prospect. Stephen Covey is well known for his Fifth Habit of Highly Effective People: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This rings especially true in our profession. In a ValueSelling context, using the Open, Probe, Confirm flow to guide our conversations will ensure that we make the best use of our time.
Asking Open questions allows the client/prospect to share(provide) their context. Strong open-ended questions helps the client/prospect to articulate their views, giving us their perspective on their business, their organization, their problems (issues), and potential solutions. Open questions encourage an expansive response that goes far more in depth than a simple question that can be answered yes or no.
Examples of effective Open questions are:
- Can you tell me more about….?
- What is causing you to experience difficulties….?
- How would you explain….?
Using what we’ve learned from our Opening questions, we can then ask Probing questions to dig deeper yet into details and uncover even more specific information. Probing questions can steer the conversation towards the information you need from your prospect, while still allowing and encouraging them to expand on their thoughts.
Additionally, Probing questions also give you the opportunity to provide insight and establish credibility with your prospect by demonstrating that you are knowledgeable about the prospect’s company, industry, products, and potential problems (pitfalls).
There are different types of Probing questions, which can be used to uncover problems, solutions, value (both personal and business), and power.
Examples of effective Probing questions are:
- Is it difficult…? (Problem Probing)
- What if your company could….can you estimate how much is being lost by not taking action on…? (Value Probing)
- Who has to sign off on this decision….? (Power Probing)
Confirming questions not only demonstrate to the prospect that you are paying attention and understand their issues, these questions also provide another opportunity to clarify for even deeper understanding. Reiterating what the prospect has shared with you lets you ensure that you and the prospect are on the same page, and gives them another opportunity to expand on the details they’ve already shared.
Examples of effective Confirming questions are:
- Did I hear….?
- What I’m hearing is…?
- Is it correct that….?
Using the Open, Probe, Confirm flow allows you to gain insight, influence the conversation, and demonstrate credibility to the prospect. You can also use this flow to quickly determine if the time you’re investing with a client is productive or if you’re wasting your time. Asking the right questions at the right time ensures that you are using your time wisely, both yours and your prospect’s time.
And with year-end looming what resource is in greater demand and in shorter supply than your time!
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