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A Lesson in Prospecting from a 3-Year-Old

July 28, 2021
  |   Makara Gerber

My three-year-old nephew recently figured out how to open my French door refrigerator on his own and access all the delicious snacks it holds. Being the cool aunt that I am, I’m excited to find out what treat I can get for him. I begin going through a list of options as he stares upwards into the enormous, brightly lit space. “Do you want a yogurt?” I ask. That is met with a quick no. “Do you want some strawberries?” Another no. I go down a list of some more options, “Do you want a cheese stick, a juice box, cucumber slices?” No, no, and no. I’m frantically realizing that I’m running out of options.

I quickly switch courses and say, “What snack would you like?” It’s like he knew the answer all along and he was just waiting for me to ask the right question. “Apple!” he quickly replies. And there it was, right about at eye level in the crisper drawer, a shiny red apple that caught his eye. I handed him the apple and he ran off excitedly with it like he had just won a grand prize.

The Right Questions

We spent all that time going through all those options, why couldn’t he have told me that he wanted an apple the whole time? It would have made things much easier, right? But then again, I was bombarding him with all these questions about other snacks. I wasn’t asking the right question, was I?

This whole scenario got me thinking of how often we are in conversations with prospects or even customers and we fail to ask the right questions, more specifically the right type of questions. The questions I’m referring to are open-ended questions.

Open-Ended Questions vs Closed

Think of open-ended questions as any questions that begin with Who, What, Where, When, Why, or How. These types of questions don’t allow for simple yes or no answers. The more of these types of questions you can ask in a conversation, the more open and free-flowing it’s going to be and the more information you will obtain. I asked so many closed-ended questions (questions that can be answered with a yes or no) to my nephew to find out what he wanted from the fridge. But if I would have started with my one open-ended question, I could’ve gotten to the answer right away and saved his time and mine! The same goes for our prospects and customers.

It takes practice to consistently utilize open-ended questions. It seems as if it is almost an instinct to pick a closed-ended question over an open-ended one. The key to improving is after having a conversation, assessing what closed-ended questions you used, and thinking about how you can reformulate them into open-ended ones to enhance the conversation.

Here are some examples of some questions you may be asking and how you can make them open-ended.

Instead of:

  • Has COVID affected your business over the last year and a half?

Try:

  • How has COVID affected your business over the last year and a half?

Instead of:

  • Do you have any plans for purchasing?

Try:

  • When will your next purchase or replacement be?

Instead of:

  • Have you explored other methods to resolve that issue?

Try:

  • What other methods have you explored to help try to resolve that issue?

If we ask ourselves the questions in each of these examples, we will notice how much more of an answer we can give with the second question in each example. That is because it’s open-ended!

Open-ended questions will allow you to get the most information possible from a prospect by opening them up to talk and keeping them away from yes/no answers. It will also keep the conversation efficient by minimizing the overall number of questions you need to ask to get them to the true point of what is important to them. If you ask them the right questions, you won’t have to ask them about the yogurt, the strawberries, cheese stick, juice box, and cucumber slices, when all they are really focused on is the apple! And that’s a lesson in prospecting from a 3-year-old!

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