Q Notes, Quadrant 1: The Question Quadrant

To be useful to a client, you need ideas that help them. It’s a lot easier to get ideas when you understand their reality, what they need, how your client perceives their situation. You don’t get this without asking questions. A good sales meeting is devoted to questions.

qs-blackboardTo be useful to a client, you need ideas that help them. It’s a lot easier to get ideas when you understand their reality, what they need, how your client perceives their situation. You don’t get this without asking questions. A good sales meeting is devoted to questions.

Q-Notes is a technique for taking notes during a sales meeting with a client. But Q-Notes isn’t just a method for capturing what happens in a meeting; it’s a questioning agenda for the meeting itself.

Q-Notes organizes your notes page spatially, into four quadrants. Have a look at the Q-Notes template at the bottom of this article. Quadrant 1 doubles as your meeting agenda. Here’s how you use Quadrant 1.

When you enter the meeting Quadrant 1 is populated with at least five questions, five areas you’ve discovered in your research that you’d like to explore with your client. Once you’ve established credibility (i.e. when your client is willing to answer the questions you ask), start working through your agenda. Ask the questions you’ve written in Quadrant 1.

You’ll probably discover that some of the questions you entered the meeting with are dead ends. (That’s why we suggest starting with five.) Alternatively, some of the questions lead you to new question areas. Imagine you’re helping your client explore problems they’re having getting their new Quebec based operation up and running smoothly. They mention that the reason they expanded to Quebec was because they were having production issues in their US operations. That’s another whole area to explore. You scribble prdctn? in Quadrant 1 of your notes page. It’s a reminder to ask about those production issues when you’ve finished following the Quebec thread. Continue to note in Quadrant 1 any other new areas for exploration that come up as you’re talking. They add to your question agenda.

Quadrant 1 becomes an active improvised agenda. It reacts to the forks in the conversation that lead to new areas for you to ask about and explore.

As you listen to your client answer your questions, you’ll get ideas about how you might help. In a typical conversation, you’d probably offer these ideas as they occur to you. The Q-Notes process modifies the natural conversation slightly. You don’t say your ideas as they occur to you. You wait. You stay in the question. You note them in Quadrant 2, and you save them until the end of the meeting. Then you return to Quadrant 1, see your note, prdctn?, and ask a question about their US production issues. You follow your agenda of questions until you’re finished (or until your time is running out.)

Quadrant 1 is the active questioning agenda. Quadrant 2 is the value quadrant. Remember to stay in Quadrant 1 until you’re done exploring, only then do you cross the line into Quadrant 2.

We’ll talk more about the power of waiting to deliver that value in an upcoming post on Quadrant 2 of Q-Notes.

Qnotes

The ideas from this post come from Tim and Tim’s book Never Be Closing.

The Most Important Moment in Sales

When you walk into a meeting with a new client, a useful metric for sustaining a meaningful dialog is five questions: five questions that occurred to you as you were researching your client; five questions that are conversation starters; five questions that can’t be answered with a yes or a no.

Preparing for a face-to-face meeting with a new prospective client

questions-cloudsHow much research is enough to go into a meeting with a prospective client in order to lead a meaningful dialog?

It’s self evident that as a salesperson you should know the obvious things about the company with whom you are meeting. Is their market cap, their supply chain, or current industry news, information you should know based on the industry you work in? A grasp of the information that is relevant and easily available is a hygiene factor. Knowing this background data is necessary, but it won’t get you very far in terms of a successful meeting.

When you walk into a meeting with a new client, a useful metric for sustaining a meaningful dialog is five questions: five questions that occurred to you as you were researching your client; five questions that are conversation starters; five questions that can’t be answered with a yes or a no.

Why five? Five satisfies the Goldilocks principle. It’s not too many. It’s not too few. Despite your research some of your questions will be dead ends, either because your client doesn’t know the answer, the answer doesn’t lend itself to any further exploration, or you learn the answer in the meeting before you get the chance to ask it. A couple will generate traction. Five is usually enough to get and keep a conversation rolling. The goal of your five questions is to find new and better questions, questions that your client has not yet solved, questions that your client has not yet even articulated, but if solved would help them move forward. (We call these catalytic questions.)

As you do your research, look for what you are naturally curious about, and then construct open questions that require your client to think and work to answer. Questions that require a detailed answer start with stems like…

Can you tell me about…?
What was/is the motivation for…?
How did you accomplish…?
Can you explain the reasons for…?
What’s the impact of…?
Why…?

It’s natural that some of the things you’ll be curious about are areas that relate to your product or service. If you’re selling a recycling service, you might say “I saw in your annual report a commitment to environmental sustainability. How is that impacting your division this year?”

Remember, to prepare for a meeting with a client, generate five questions that meet these three criteria..

Questions…

  1. You are genuinely curious about.
  2. May link to your product or service.
  3. Start with an open stem like the ones listed.

Now, you’re ready to have a productive first face-to-face with a new client. Good luck!

Why a Sales Conversation is Different from a Normal Conversation

conversationA good sales conversation involves the salesperson asking questions. As you listen to your client answer the questions you ask, your brain will give you ideas about how you might help. In a typical conversation, you’d probably offer these ideas as they occurred to you. In a good sales conversation with a client, we suggest you don’t say your ideas as they occur to you. You wait. You stay in the question. In this way, a good client conversation actually modifies the natural conversation process slightly. Here’s why.

1. Once you start talking about your idea, especially if you only have one, and double especially if it relates to your product, it’s hard not to defend it. And defending your product or idea at the beginning of a meeting is not a good start to a productive sales conversation.

2. At the end of the meeting you are most informed. An idea you had early in the meeting will get better (or discarded) as you learn more from your client.

3. It’s a powerful dynamic to summarize, at the end of a meeting, all the ideas you have to help your client (not just those linked to your product). It shows you listened with them in mind, throughout the whole meeting. It illustrates your potential value on many levels.

It takes practice to modify your normal conversational method; to not interject your ideas; to hold them until the end. Here are some conversation modification tips to help you stay in the question.

1. Look for and ask open–ended ‘How to…’ or ‘How might you…’ questions. ‘What might be all the ways…’ is another nice stem. These are open-ended questions that leave space for lots of answers and conjecture.

2. ‘Can you tell me more about…’ is a great starter to keep you in the question. (Ok, it’s technically a yes or no question, but it works like an open ended one. If the answer is ‘yes’, folks will usually go ahead and tell you more about it.)

3. Often you’ll have an idea or an answer jumping to get out of your head. You want to say, “You should expand to the south?” It’s hard not to. Try turning it into a question.

“To achieve more scale, have you though about expanding to the south?”
(This is better than saying. “You should do X.”)

But, you probably noticed that the question above is really an idea disguised as a question. It’s better than saying. “You should do X.” But, it’s not open-ended.

So, instead of proposing your idea, turn your yes-no question into an open question.

‘What might be all the ways to achieve scale?’

Maybe they already tried expanding south, (or whatever X is). If they have, the ‘What might be all the ways’ question above will usually elicit that. And hearing all the other things they tried so far may give you more ideas about what else they could try. Note those ideas, and save them until you’re finished questioning.

The most important thing to remember about Questions is to stay in them. The question starter stems help you do that. Again, they are..

How to..?
How might you..?
What might be all the ways..?
Can you tell me more about..?

Remember, stay in the question.

Questions for Them

Good questions might be a mash up between coaching and selling. A personal or business coach, in the purest form, only asks questions. Yet a good coach can provide plenty of value to a client. Ask good questions, be a coach to your clients, and you’ll benefit from the value you provide.

Demonstrating value is an integral part of any client meeting. It’s being useful to your client. It means that they are deriving benefit from their interaction with you.

From the salesperson’s point of view, the ideal demonstration of value is explaining how your product or service can solve a problem for your client. A problem which, if solved, will help them achieve a larger goal or objective.

There are other ways to provide value. One way is asking questions. “Asking questions?” You ask. Yes, asking questions. Not any question. Only some questions provide value. A simple way to separate those that don’t offer value and those that do is to divide them into questions for you and questions for them. Questions for you are questions that they have already asked themselves, especially questions they have already asked themselves to which they know the answer. When you ask questions that fall into this category you’re not helping your client, you’re informing yourself. This may be necessary so you can provide value later on, but you are using up your credits when you ask questions for you. (Neil Rackham’s book SPIN Selling includes situation questions, the S in his acronym, in this category.)

question_postitsQuestions for them (which, by the way, are also questions for you) are questions that your client has not yet asked, and doesn’t yet know the answer. They catalyze, invite new thinking, or reframe a situation. They often begin with one of these catalytic question stems: How might you…? What might be all the ways…? In what ways might you…? or How to? (An english professor, in England, once told me, with frustration, that “How to” results in a phrase not a sentence, so it’s technically not a question. But it can still be an inquiry, which is the point.)

A catalytic question poses a question from a new perspective, one that has not yet been considered. It doesn’t just transmit information from them to you. It opens up a new space to explore. It creates opportunity, and opportunity has value. A colleague was once consulting with a team from Accenture. (She was a consultant to the consultants. I find it refreshing that they take some of their own medicine some of the time.) She followed up on her first meeting by sending them a list, not of next steps, not action items or solutions, not suggestions, not even ideas. She sent a list of twenty-five “How might we…?” questions that she had derived from their conversation.

Accenture’s response?

“We should be doing this for all our clients.”

Simply by asking questions she demonstrated value.

Good questions might be a mash up between coaching and selling. A personal or business coach, in the purest form, only asks questions. Yet a good coach can provide plenty of value to a client. Ask good questions, be a coach to your clients, and you’ll benefit from the value you provide.