Rookie Questions (Issue 435)

In which we discuss applying research to generating questions that make a difference. "How is family contribution calculated? It was a rookie question about college financial aid. Our second child is applying for college admission; we join her at pre-application college "Information Sessions." During the first of two on Saturday, the Admissions Officer offered to answer questions concerning the admissions process. After several questions, a dad in the second row asked the question: "How is family contribution calculated?"

The room ambience shifted instantly. The Admissions Officer paused, sensing the change. I looked at my wife; she rolled her eyes and whispered, “First timer.” I could see other heads in the room drop, suggesting similar conclusions. We with thinner wallets , older children in school, and long weekend to-do lists felt… impatient… uncomfortable… “oh, pul-LEASE, why are you wasting our time, haven’t you done any reading?” Rookie, rookie, rookie, rookie, rookie!

Prospects have similar reactions to seller rookie questions: “Tell me about your business!” “What’s been happening in the printing industry?” “How has the economy been affecting your business?”

Prospects and customers with long to-do lists think, “Do you know what you’re doing?” and “Can we wrap this up quickly? I have work to do.”

Even a little preparation can go a long way. While an hour working with a prospect’s web site and industry information like First Research would be appropriate, even 15 minutes can help.

“Tell me about your business?” might change to “How has your new digital printer affected your volume and margins?”

“What’s been happening in the printing industry?” could become “I’ve noticed that printer gross profit margins have been dropping even as the industry switches to digital printers; how do you explain this?”

“How has the economy been affecting your business?” might evolve to “Many say that demand for printing won’t return to previous levels due to declines in print advertising. They say on-line pre-press and document storage services will offset this decline. How do you feel about it?”

The “more prepared” questions are interesting, worth discussion; they dig at subtleties and challenges that keep printing company owners up at night.

On Saturday morning, the Admissions Officer answered the rookie deftly and respectfully , suggesting further reading, a visit to the college’s web site, and conversation after the general session. Many of our clients and prospects are likely to be less forgiving and graceful.

Be prepared!

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