Unfortunately, sometimes those long-answer questions are too open, too big, too invasive. Far too often, sales people ask them way too early in the conversation–before they have earned the right to ask them.
Think in terms of adding points to two different accounts. One is the personal account, and the other is the business account. Each time you get a positive response, you get a point. Note which account it goes into. If we’re talking about your grandchildren and you show me a photo, that’s a point in the personal account. But, if you say, “I need to set up a college fund for my grandson,” then that goes into the business account. The account that fills up faster is the one you want to focus on.
Remember, points can be taken away by asking the wrong question at the wrong time. Asking open-ended questions too soon can easily detract from your relationship and credibility. Open-ended questions definitely have a place, but the key is to ask them at the right time.
Before your clients will trust you enough to answer a question that starts with, “What’s important to you about ______?” they must perceive you as safe, credible and trustworthy. Opening your conversations with such an open-ended question does little to establish your safety, which is key to establishing credibility, which is key to establishing trust, and you’re not likely to make any sales if you can’t establish those with a prospect.
Michael Lovas is the author of ten books, three columns, and a thousand articles on professional credibility and the psychology of business communication. He’s the co-founder of AboutPeople, a firm specializing in business therapy.