A short time ago, I wrote about how my kids have Jedi-like qualities when it comes to asking for what they want. While I don’t fold as easily as a storm-trooper granting Luke and Obi Wan passage, the process often leaves me just as befuddled. Perhaps it’s because of the relentless, tireless line of questioning, but when they’re peppering me with ongoing, open-ended questions, I can feel my resistance draining. It’s not a negative thing, mind you, but quite the opposite: I feel proud of their ability to keep their eyes on the prize and not back down.
In the previous post, I wrote about the value of power (open-ended) questions in getting the information we need to help move the sales process forward. Power questions help us uncover needs, potential objections and perhaps most importantly, entice the prospect’s involvement in the dialogue. As any marketing or business development professional will attest, your odds of winning new business increase exponentially when the other party is actively participating. If he/she just sits there, arms folded and uttering an occasional grunt to let you know they’re still alive (but not for long), then you’re doomed. We can do better.
Knowing what to ask and when to ask it can be challenging for anyone in marketing and business development. Timing is everything. Since situations vary, it makes sense to have a plan for the different environments in which we meet and engage with prospects (and clients for that matter). Being prepared is a key success factor. Can you remember anyone going into a test, meeting or anything without preparing, and doing well? Yeah, me neither.
Conferences, seminars and networking events are prime opportunities to meet prospects and clients (along with bringing home suitcases full of swag). If your company taps you for this assignment, prepare. Aside from watching a YouTube tutorial on how to fold a suit for travel without destroying it, take the time to come up with what I call next-level questions to ask prospects during the event.
At some point, you’ll end up mingling with other attendees during a cocktail hour or dinner event. For purposes of this post, I’m using a financial services conference setting, though these questions are easily adaptable to other industries. People like to talk about themselves, so your job is to ask questions that encourage them to open up. After the typical greeting, you can create a meaningful interaction by asking questions following a logical progression. Four types of next-level power questions include:
1. What is your role, and what are your primary responsibilities?
(Don’t settle for just learning someone’s name and title. This question gives them the opportunity to tell you about themselves.)
2. What’s been your experience with systems like Advent, Portia or DST?
(Insert whatever system or process is relevant to you and your company’s products/services. Again, get them talking.)
3. In what ways have client or regulatory initiatives impacted your firm?
General Follow-Up Questions
1. How does your firm choose a software provider?
2. What key projects is your firm considering?
3. What do you look for when implementing a software solution?
Functional Follow-Up Questions
1. To what extent is cost-basis accounting a key service offering?
2. What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of implementing performance systems?
3. In what ways are digital strategies impacting projects?
1. What makes your company choose one product over another?
2. Why are those the deciding factors?
3. Who is involved in the decision-making process?
By no means is this meant to be a complete list. Each situation we encounter is different, and as marketing and business development professionals, we have to adjust accordingly. Being able to adjust on the fly requires preparation. In the above conference example, do your homework BEFORE you to the event. Knowing who will be there and obtaining relevant key information about these people is a powerful ally in achieving success with business development. How so? Read on.
A few years ago, while in a Marketing & Business Development capacity for a company, I attended a conference in Las Vegas. Before the event, I used a list of expected attendees to group clients and prospects by the type of service and revenue tier. With this list in hand, I gathered information on each person from our CRM system to build a prospect profile. To complete the competitive profile, I researched each person outside of our CRM system to find interesting tidbits that I hoped would enrich conversations.
For one attendee in particular, I learned that she was actively involved in many conversation efforts, including one whose goal was saving tigers. Knowing this, I sought her out during the event, since my company was also heavily involved in conservation initiatives. I was hopeful that this would encourage a productive dialogue since we had shared interests. We crossed paths, and I talked to her about my company’s conservation programs and asked about hers. I had several “Next Level” power questions ready, and these, combined with my research, moved the conversation forward. This opened a larger dialogue about my company that ultimately led to new business and revenue.
Time to level up!