Ask Questions to Build Credibility

Asking questions builds more credibility than presenting facts or making statements.  How would you feel if your doctor started the conversation with "your nose is red you look like you have an headache.  I am going to give you this shot."   A good doctor will start the conversation with diagnostic questions such as what brought you into the office or on a scale of 1-10 can you rate your pain?  In the same way a great consultant or sales person builds credibility and later a relationship by asking great questions.

In most cases, I recommend starting with broad open-ended questions.  Many times questions need to go seven levels deep to get at the real root of the problem.   As the relationship is built, a combination of open ended and closed ended questions can be used.

My interest in asking great questions started with training and later a book by Tom Freese, the author of Question Based Selling.   Tom is the master of asking great questions.

Daniel Pink is another expert in this area.   In a blog entitled How to Move People with Two Irrational Questions provides a great recipe for getting people to change based on this sequence of two questions.  In his example he provides...

1. How ready are you to make the revisions, on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means not ready at all and 10 means totally ready? 

Make sure she gives you a number. On the rare chance that she says, “1,” surprise her by saying, “What would turn it into a 2?” In telling you what it would take for her to become a 2, she reveals what she needs to do before she is able to make the revisions to the campaign. That is what you motivate her to do first.

2. If she picks a number higher than 2, ask, “Why didn’t you pick a lower (yes, lower) number?”

Question 1 seems irrational, because you’re asking, “How ready are you…?” of a person who just said, “No,” which we can assume means not at all ready.  However, most resistant people have some motivation that they keep from us.  If you ask, “Are you going to take my suggestion, yes or no?” they continue to keep their motivation hidden.  But if you ask them the “1-10” question, they’re much more likely to reveal their motivation by saying a 2 or a 3, which is far better – you’ve now moved from a “No” to at least a “Maybe.”

Ian Altman, author of Same Side Selling, provides two sequences of questions, one is for having a discussion with a potential customer about replacing their current vendor and the other is for someone during a job interview.

How to qualify when you are not the incumbent.

  1. What do you like about your current vendor?
  2. If you could change one thing about your current vendor, what would it be?  Anything else?
  3. Is the potential of working with somebody else worth a discussion?

Interview Questions

  1. What are the qualities of your most successful people?
  2. What are the qualities of your least successful people?
  3. Which do I have?

I recommend using both the positive an negative framing of the same question.   For instance did we do well in our presentation today or are there a few items we might be able to improve?   

Below are 15 questions I recommend that my consulting teams ask in order to build credibility with the goal of making customers comfortable enough to allow them to help them solve their problems.

  1. What experiences have you had with this technology, or company etc.?
  2. What are the internal or external forces causing your organization to change?
  3. What is your #1 priority this year?
  4. What changes do you expect to make in response to XXX?
  5. Which is most important A or B?
  6. Who else is concerned about this?
  7. What is the extent of XXX problem in your organization?
  8. What are the implications of not addressing this issue?
  9. How will you measure success?
  10. What is the value you place on adding or retaining a client?
  11. What will your decision criteria be?  For instance are you in charge of the technical decision but somebody else is in charge of the financial decision or contractual T&Cs?
  12. What has to happen before we accomplish XXX?
  13. What lead you to that decision?
  14. When you say it is too expensive do you mean above your budget or more than your perceived value?
  15. Is there any other way our firm should be helping your company?

Please comment and add your best questions.