Lead the Conversation by Asking Questions

When a specialist is brought along to the customer meeting, one might experience a moment of a mental short circuit. All of a sudden you should represent your own expertise as well as the selected technologies and, in fact, the whole company. You should be able to give proper arguments and stand for your decisions. In addition, you’re expected to assert and charm and sell and all sorts of things that are not usually included in the specialist’s everyday work.

At the same time there is this impostor syndrome telling you that you will be exposed; that at any second the customer will realise, that you don’t possess all the answers and knowledge after all. Therefore, we end up explaining and arguing and reassuring so that the customer would have no time for doubt.

For some reason we have a feeling, that as long as we lead the conversation with our expertise, we have a control in the situation. But there is another way to keep control of the situation, even if it doesn’t immediately seem so. That is to ask questions.

Who has the questions, holds the power

The conversation is being directed through questions, and the person who expresses them is actually the one who decides what the conversation is about. Yes, there is a possibility that the answer might change the course of the conversation, but after a while it can be once again returned to the favourable topic with a new question.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that the meeting should be a cross-examination targeted on the poor customer. But instead of rushing to inform and assert, it’s perfectly fine to just be silent, listen carefully and after that to ask good questions. This way we get the customer to speak enough for us to find out what they really want. As it turns out, most often they’re not at all interested in the things we were about to say only to convince them of our professionalism.

Good questions are a sign of expertise

Expertise doesn’t show itself only in the brilliant answers. It is often the good questions that actually express a deeper understanding of the topic. Even more so than the answers that might have just been memorised from some textbook. If you are able to internalize the given answers and find the questions that add more value to the conversation, the customer will think that “goddammit, this person really knows what she’s talking about”.

Through good questions the customer will also feel, that

  • she has been understood
  • she, and her concerns are important
  • you want to help her
  • she’s been heard
  • she has the power.

The longer the customer has had the chance to talk and explain about her situation, the more confident she will feel. She will have a sense of control and it will be much safer for her to trust her reputation, project and money in your hands.

It can be a bit nerve-racking to remain silent in a situation where the other has the power to do the decisions, while you should charm and be convincing. It was only a week ago when I last made the mistake and went to a meeting with a lapful of answers and reassurances instead of good questions. So it takes time to learn, but it will also give better results.

Or what is your experience about this? Leave a comment or let’s have a chat at our Slack comunity.

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