I have heard this one very common and misused comment so many times, I decided to post a general reply. The comment is “the most important thing you can do is to listen to your customers.” Baloney! Phooey! However you want to spell it. That is very far from accurate. The most important thing you can do with your clients and prospects is to ask the right questions, because if you are not asking the right questions, you are not listening to the right answers.
Simply listening is misguided. Ever heard the expression “buyers are liars”? Well, they are.
Here is a great example from the business problems of one of my clients, Angela Slaughter, President of Tradepire. Tradepire houses experts in foreign trade regulations. If you are going to do business overseas, you had better know what Federal regulations you face. Fines are very hefty and jail is not pleasant for anyone. So, go to the Tradepire site and email or call Angela.
Would you expect that if Angela were to ask a of a company if they had any trade regulation issues that they would openly and freely admit it? Not on your life! I can hear the answer now. “No! We don’t have any issues along those lines. I have it all covered.” That would no doubt be the answer if she asked the question of the person who is in charge of federal regulations compliance – right before they get fired because the company just got hit with $500,000 in fines because that person said “we have it covered.”
So, should Angela leave it there and walk away without more? Absolutely not! Angela begins to ask probing questions at that point. Frequently she discovers, on the third or fourth question that there is likely an issue that she can help the company solve. she is an excellent outsourced provider of guidance.
The technique comes from a basic of NLP – neuro linguistic programming. It began as a questioning technique called “The Five Whys”. I learned it in the early 1980′s when I was with Scott Paper Company. The technique has been adapted and refined over the years and is also termed “Laddering”. Generally, it takes several questions to get to the root of any issue.
It takes a bit of business acumen and solid training to know what questions to ask and how to ask them.
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