What really happens when you ask a good prospect tough questions?

ask prospect questions

There is a science to asking questions, the key to unlocking many prospects.

A short time ago, I was training an agency on Spark (how to generate more leads and win more new business), and we were discussing the importance of asking good questions. The agency owner stated, “What difference does it make what questions we ask? The prospect isn’t going to tell us the truth anyway.

Great point. Too bad so many marketing firms seem to agree! Asking poor questions (or no questions at all) just keeps perpetuating the perception that marketing firms are idiots! So many ad agencies, design firms, PR firms, etc. have given up on learning how to ask the prospect questions.

Undoubtedly, some prospects will not tell you the truth during the discovery phase of the conversation (see agency baseball). However, I strongly believe that this is caused by an untrained agency person’s actions or behavior.

Why Don’t Prospects Tell You The Truth?

Too many marketing firms still follow the French Poodle approach to new business: they believe that telling is selling. If they actually ask questions, they either ask the wrong questions or they ask them at the wrong time. Or, they ask questions that are designed to get a buying commitment from the prospect.

Prospects are inundated by marketing firms trying to win their business. Marketing firms of all types, from brand consultancies to print shops to “two guys and a Mac” are all vying for their limited marketing budget. And most are saying the same damn thing, “Hire us! We’re creative, smart, and give great service!” Ugh. Then, perhaps in a moment of weakness the poor prospect gives an agency a chance, “Go ahead, I’ll let you come in for a visit!”

With this golden opportunity most marketing firms then go on to ask questions that either could have been answered by a quick visit to the prospect’s website or by doing a few minutes of research. Or, they ask self-serving and useless questions such as:

  • “What do you know about our agency?”
  • “What’s your greatest challenge?”
  • “Can I tell you about…?”
  • “If I could show you how you will (save money, increase sales, etc.) would you be interested?”
  • “What will it take to earn your business?”

In today’s business climate, the people you’re trying to sell are incredibly busy. They don’t have time to waste on frivolous conversations. They expect you to do some research BEFORE you contact them so that you can get to the point and offer something that will help them improve their overall business results. And they absolutely positively hate sitting through the French Poodle (see, look at all the great stuff we can do!) phase of any meeting. Just stop.

Here’s the simple truth:

  • The main reason prospects don’t tell you the truth is because they don’t trust you.
  • If you want prospects to open up and tell you the truth, you need to create an environment of trust.
  • This means using the right tone and manner during your conversation– whether it’s on the telephone or during a face-to-face meeting.
  • It means asking tough, penetrating questions that cause your prospect to sit and up and think.
  • It means resisting the temptation to pitch your agency until you have an accurate understanding of how you will actually help the prospect you’re talking to.
  • It means putting your agenda on the side-burner and focusing 100 percent of your attention on your prospect’s problem, concern or situation instead of thinking of how you will try to close the business.
  • It means learning how to conduct a powerful First Visit!

If you can achieve this then it is more likely your prospect will be straight-forward with you, and you will no longer have to worry about them skirting the truth with you.

Build Trust Before The Meeting

This is what being a great Spark is all about. The Spark program is a distinctive European way of doing new business. Agencies overseas typically put more effort into building relationships as a proper way into the account, rather than ambulance-chasing that typifies much American new business activities.

Photo by Eibo-Jeddah