Skip to content
8 min read

To Ask Better Questions, Stop Talking

Featured Image

 

This is the full funnel freedom podcast, supporting sales leaders, and managers to improve their sales funnels from people to prospects. I'm Hamish Knox. In this show, you'll learn how you can improve your results. Lead a great team and hit more targets with full funnel freedom. Welcome to the full funnel freedom podcast.
I'm your host Hamish Knox in this Episode I'll share ideas and insights around how to ask better questions and by extension train your salespeople to ask better questions. We do a lot of improv based role-play with the leaders that we work with and a very common refrain. When we debrief a scene is you asked a great question and then you kept talking.

Now, there are typically two reasons why we over-talk our questions. Number one is we're either afraid of silence or number two, we are afraid that our salesperson or the sales person talking to a prospect or client is afraid of. The person we've asked. The question of is going to give an answer that is not beneficial to us.

This just doesn't happen in leadership or sales. There's a podcast of the Freakonomics radio show called the economics of sleep part one. And at the 38 12 mark, I went and looked it up. The host, Stephen Dubner is talking to an associate professor of preventative medicine about the economics of sleep in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

And his exact question is it strikes me that I've seen so much messaging talking about nutrition and safe driving and anti-alcohol and anti-drug and anti-smoking, but I've never seen that. I can recall a pro sleep message. Why is that? Or why haven't we seen. No, that's a really great question, which could have prompted a plethora of a really interesting responses from the interviewee.

However, without pausing for an answer Dubner continues to say, is it because it's not really that important? Or is it just because we haven't collectively come to appreciate the power of good sleep and a productive life. So now a universe of possible answers has been condensed down to. Too, because the interviewee or our salesperson or our spouse, or our child is not likely to who disagree with the person who asked them the question or choose a different response.

Other than the two that they've been presented. What this can do, of course is prevent us from getting to the real answer or learning something that might actually carry us forward in a conversation and support us in creating full funnel freedom with our sales person who gave us an answer that we frankly couldn't have even thought of.

Let's return to the two reasons why we typically overtalk our questions. The first one, of course, being fear of silence. And the second one that we are afraid of getting an answer that is not going to quote unquote benefit. The fear of silence is fairly ingrained. Uh, especially in Western countries.

There's a lot of talking. There's not a lot of silence. Our televisions are full of programs where nine different people are trying to get appointed in a six minute television segment before we cut the commercial. So because we're not on television, uh, when we are talking to our sales team, One of the things that we coach, the leaders that we work with to do is ask a question and then count backwards in their head from 15.

So we don't do this out loud and we don't want to awkwardly stare at the other person while we're doing it. But. The way I might say in a coaching session is ask the question and then shut up now. I mean that in a very nurturing way, of course, but it's really that trigger of, I've asked my question, put a pin in it and start counting backwards from 15 in my experience.

With one exception. The longest anyone has ever gone with silence is by five seconds, because at some point the other person feels compelled to start giving us more information. And you've probably experienced this purely. Accident. When you asked a question, you paused for a second, and for whatever reason, you paused longer, whether you took a big sip of whatever you were drinking or because something distracted you.

And then all of a sudden you got information from this other person who you had asked the question of who had been recalcitrant to date or in the moment, but they had all of a sudden felt compelled to start sharing information with you. We see this sometimes in television shows around interrogations where the person is stoic, stoic, stoic, and then eventually they, they just let the waters flow and outcomes the truth.

So what we want to do is create success by default instead of by design and be intentional. And so by being intentional with our questions and letting the silence sit. And breathe. We can actually gather more information than we would have otherwise, or by trapping the person we asked the question of in one or two answers that we've basically given them.

Now, I did say that there was one exception. One of the leaders that I work with called me up for some coaching one day had a challenge with one of their direct reports. And this direct report is a fairly reserved communicator, overly expressive. So I was sharing. With the leader that they're going to need to use this 15, second pause.

And this leader communicates very similar to me. They're very quick. They're very, to the point and the silence thing for them, like me is a bit of a challenge. So I said, you know that 15 second pause thing that we've been talking about for awhile. And they said, yeah. And I said, you may need to go past 15.

And they said, what? And I said, yes, you may need to go past 15. So keep counting until the direct group. Answers, can you do that? And they said, I got to have this conversation. It's really awkward for me. It's probably going to be awkward for them, but I really feel if we don't have it, our relationship is probably going to go sideways.

I said, great. Can you let me know how it goes? The conversation was going to happen later that day. I said, can you let me know how it goes? And they said, absolutely later that day I got a text message that just said 28 seconds. So I called up the leader and said, tell me more, like to know a bit more about what happened.

And they said, yeah, it took 28 seconds for them to answer. But once they did. I got such great information that they had been reluctant to share with me and they felt like they could finally share it because I had given them the space to formulate how they wanted to respond to me. So the 15 second pause.

Great, great, great technique to gather more information from our direct report. Teach this to your sales people as well, because this is a great way for them to gather more information from their prospects. Now, the sounds of silence can both help and hurt a sale or a conversation. We'll talk about that in a future episode, but your salespeople are unlikely to ever need to get past five seconds, but if they have to coach them to keep counting and they will eventually get a response from their practice.

Now let's address. The second reason why we tend to over-talk our questions, which is we're afraid of answers that are not going to quote unquote benefit. I've had a couple of people in my network say, you know, never ask a question. You don't know the answer to well, that really limits the amount of things that I can learn.

And that's one of my foundational values is learning. So I would like to actually ask questions that I literally have no knowledge of what the response might be. Partly because I have the confidence that no matter what information comes back, I can handle that, that response and, and move forward. I've had many conversations, especially since we got locked down during COVID with leaders who are having significantly more emotional conversations with their direct reports.

And whenever I'm coaching with one of the leaders I work with. Tend to have the red flag conversation, which is, or the extremes, right? What's the super extreme, positive, what's the super extreme negative, of course something's going to be in the middle, but then we certainly look at the edges and, and one of the recurring themes has been, I believe you can handle the extreme if it's going to go to the extreme and based on the person we're talking about, I don't believe it's going to get to, but if it does, here's a couple of ideas on how to handle it.

And of course, to date it, hasn't gone to either extreme quite yet, but keep this. The purpose of every interaction with another person when we're having a conversation. So in this case, it would be one of our salespeople is to get to the truth. Now we may not like the truth. We may discover that our sales person has been filling their sales funnel with hope and smokes instead of real qualified operators.

We may not like that, but I'd rather know that now. So I have an opportunity to adjust in the moment instead of months later, when the reports come in and we discover that we've missed our sales targets. So we want to be agnostic to the outcome. And I appreciate the word. Agnostic has a lot of emotional baggage attached to it, especially recently, however, To me being agnostic means I'm good.

Either way. You could say this, you can say that doesn't matter what you say. All I want you to say is to say something because using the tenants of improv or improvisation, I'm going to take the information that you give me and use it to continue to build on our conversation likely by taking that information and coming back with a question to help me understand in more detail.

So we want to avoid giving those directives in our questions. Now we could certainly use an, a B type question where we can say, is this the reason why you're struggling to get in front of decision makers? Or is this the reason why you're struggling in get in front of decision makers or maybe it's something else?

And we tag in that third option because like Danny Arielli said in predictably irrational, Human beings love to make choices. And we typically tap out at three choices to make. So I've given my direct report. Is it this reason why you're struggling to get in decision-makers this reason you're struggling to get in front of decision makers or maybe it's something else now I've given them the freedom and say, oh yeah, you know what?

I think it's something else. Great. Tell me what you think that might. When we over-talk our questions, we can break rapport, especially if we are giving potential answers to the question to our sales person, because the minute that our salesperson feels like we're trying to lead them down a path where they think it's their own idea about really, they can tell that we've been gently or not nudging them in a certain direction.

The whole. We lose all of our rapport with them and they lose all the rapport with their clients and prospects when their prospects feel like they are getting shoved down a path. Yeah, I, I was taught at one point to, uh, ask questions where there was really no way to give a negative answer, uh, unless the person who I asked the question of completely didn't know how to do their job and, and to, and to nod when, when I was asking that question.

So as an example, when I sold software as service for media monitoring, I might say having a media clip on your desktop, four minutes out, Report aired. So you could, uh, respond to it in real time would be beneficial to you. Wouldn't it. And then smile and nod. And there's really no way for my prospect to say anything other than, yeah, that'd be really beneficial to me.

So when we're asking our questions, we want to ensure that we are giving our salespeople timely. Joe answer. And that could be using the 15 second pause. And we don't want to over-talk our questions, trap them in two or less ways of answering the question, because what we're really seeking to do is get to the truth in every interaction.

This has been the full funnel of freedom. I've been your host Hamish Knox. Thanks for listening. Please share, rate and review until we connect on the next episode. Go create full funnel freedom. Thank you for listening to full funnel freedom with Amish knocks. If you want to increase your sales with ease, go to full funnel, freedom.com.