One of the big memes of the whole Web 2.0/social media phenomenon as it relates to business is the importance of listening. Stop talking about how great you are and start listening. To your customers, your advisors, your employees, the blogosphere – you get the drift.
But what do you do if they don’t say anything? When people complain about their computer catching on fire on their blog, it’s relatively easy to figure out what you need to do to fix it. And if they love you they’ll usually let you know that, too. But what if they’re just kind of, you know, “Meh.” Or maybe they have some sense that they want to do business with you, but aren’t sure where to start?
One thing I’ve learned the last few years is that listening often isn’t enough, because they don’t really say anything. You know why? Because first you have to ask them a question.
And during that time I’ve discovered a magical question that is useful in almost any situation: sales, customer service, dealing with employees, even job hunting. Here it is:
If I could wave a magic wand and make this problem go away, what would that look like?
Big whup, right? It turns out that it is.
I’ve found that asking this question puts the buyer/customer/employee into a different mindset. Instead of treating you as either a pesky salesman or a target for their anger, they start to envision a better future. Instead of you convincing them to buy your product or come around to your way of thinking, they tell you exactly what solution you need to offer to make them happy.
Of course, you won’t always have the solution. Sometimes they don’t need your product (or you may realize you’re selling the wrong product and start to make changes as a result). On the other hand, if you do have the solution, you don’t have to waste time talking about the 87 features & benefits because you already know the two or three that really matter to them. I’ve found that on a good sales call, the prospect talks at least 70% of the time (and they often thank me at the end for such a great meeting). They talk not just because they like to gab, but because I ask questions.
Or in the case of an employee, they may realize they’re working for the wrong company or that their request is unreasonable. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this question with employees. Not only do they appreciate that I’m listening, they also realize that they are an active participant in the solution and thus more open to adjusting their own behavior or expectations.
In a customer service situation, they will be shocked that you even think this way. I can’t tell you how many pissed off people I’ve disarmed with this over the years. (Not that I’ve personally pissed a lot of people off, but you know how testy people can get in email they send to firstname.lastname@example.org…)
A couple variations:
Sales: What do you need to see, hear or get a feel for to feel like you have enough information to make a good decision?
Business development: If I guaranteed to you that this will be a great partnership, in hindsight how would you know I was right?
Recruiting: What would make you feel like you made the perfect decision in coming to work for us?
Job hunting: I know the job title is [insert title here], but what are some of the specific results and behaviors that will let you know, in your gut, that you’ve hired the right kind of person?
It even works with your spouse:
What’s the one thing I could do tonight at dinner/on our vacation/while visiting the in-laws that would make you feel like I’m the perfect partner?
Try it and let me know how it works for you.