How Asking the Right Questions Builds Connections
“Hi, what’s your name?” – Jack to all the customers at our yard sale
“Dave.” – Customer named Dave
“Do you have any kids?” – Jack
(Glen and I look at each other in panic realizing that we have not taught Jack any boundaries.)
Repeat this scene 12 times over the course of 4 hours.
The Birth of a Salesman
I asked Jack later why he asked the customers who came to our yard sale if they had any kids. I figured he would say that he wanted to play with their kids, or that he was just curious. But his answer floored me.
“I asked if they had kids so I could see if they wanted to buy some of our toys.”
Hold. Up. Is my 3-year-old a master salesman? Is his preschool being underwritten by Dale Carnegie? Did I teach him this sales strategy in an overtired haze?
I honestly don’t know where he learned the best sales strategy out there. But even if his specific question may not have been the most appropriate, he was spot on. And utilizing this basic sales strategy can work wonders for your career, and for just about anything in your life.
Be Interesting By Being Interested
There’s a quote that I have always attributed to my dad, “be interesting by being interested.” Apparently Dale Carnegie said a variation of this first, but Pop lives and breaths it in his personal and professional life. And I think that’s where Jack gets his inquisitive nature.
For 35 years, Pop has been building a successful career in sales. The secret behind his success as a sales person is that he is always asking questions and building relationships. This is true with his family, friends, and community too. Pop really knows people. He actively listens, he probes for more information, he always makes you feel heard and special. For whatever success I owe to Kevin Garnett, I owe it twice over to Pop.
With the answers Pop gets to his questions, he asks more questions, And with those answers, he can help propose a solution. Possibly a solution his company can offer. Even if that’s not the case, the people he interacts with at work and in his personal life want to talk to him because he lets them talk about what is important to them. He is super interesting to people, because he is interested. Pop has plenty of stories of his own to tell, but he’s always a great listener first. The sales strategy he has used is in his career is really a life strategy, and it works.
Want To Buy Some Blueberries?
To drive home the point, I have a fruit-based example of being interesting by being interested. I didn’t come up with a pie pun here and that’s terribly disappointing. Next time…
As part of a management training I attended I was asked to sit with a partner and try to sell my partner a pint of blueberries. Each of us got two minutes to convince the other person that they really need these imaginary blueberries in their life.
What most people do in this exercise is start talking about how the blueberries are organic, locally grown, and go great on yogurt. They are the juiciest, sweetest, most life-changing blueberries in the world and you are going to be missing out on a big opportunity if you don’t buy them today. In fact there is even a sale going on. Buy one, get one free. But only for the next 45 seconds.
That’s what I did. And I sold a couple pints of fake blueberries that way.
But the much more effective way to sell the blueberries is to not sell the blueberries. Instead, ask questions. Where do you typically shop for produce? Who are you shopping for when you go to the grocery store? What is your morning routine like? What are your biggest challenges when it comes to eating healthy?
The answers could reveal that the person you are trying to sell blueberries to has a family of five that goes through blueberries by the bushel because the triplet toddlers are low key obsessed with blueberries. But you just gave them buy one get one free when they were ready to buy them right off your truck.
Or you may have found that the person you were selling blueberries has food allergies. Perhaps a blueberry allergy. So the more you went on and on about how delicious the blueberries were, the harder they eye-rolled.
Questions matter. Without good questions, there aren’t good answers.
Ask Not What Your Yard Sale Customer Can Do For You
In sales, in career coaching, in teaching, or in relationships, a good rule of thumb is before you try to offer a solution to someone’s problem you need to understand what their problem really is. You need to be interested.
Jack deployed the “be interesting by being interested” strategy instinctively. Why would he try to steer the potential customer over to the toy table if they didn’t have kids? That would be a waste of everyone’s time. And he wouldn’t learn anything new about the customer except that they didn’t want that toy he was peddling. Plus, by engaging the customers in conversation, Jack made his 3-year-old self noticed and heard. This little dude with all the questions, he was pretty interesting.
AND here’s where it gets really good. With the new information Jack learned, “I have kids, but they are all grown up! We are going on vacation in Maine together soon,” he found an in to direct good old Dave over to the coolers and the paperback books.
After Dave picked up his books, Jack made sure his new friend knew about his lemonade stand too. There was no way Dave wasn’t getting lemonade now, he was too invested. Not in lemonade necessarily, but in his new buddy Jack.
Hook, line, and interesting sinker.
With the realization that we really should have given Jack a bigger cut of the yard sale profits,