Simple Opening Questions (Issue 1002)

In which we are encouraged to begin client meetings with a simple opening question and silence.

“I’m thinking this meeting is a waste of time.” I was preparing for the 20-minute drive from my office to my bi-weekly meeting with my “mental health and resilience“ coach. This was pre-pandemic and she preferred to meet face-to-face rather than by telephone or Zoom. It was a beautiful, sunny, light breezy summer day and I was thinking that, maybe, I would be better off going for a walk or just sitting quietly under a tree. “Things are good,” I thought. “I don’t really have anything to talk about.”

That thought continued to play during my drive. When I reached her office, I parked the car, climbed the stairs to her second-floor office, and knocked.

“Hello,” she said, smiling, as she opened the door. “I have been expecting you.“

We sat down. “So, how have things been going?” This was almost always her first question.

“Things are good,“ I said. “Work is going well at the office, things are good at home, both the kids are well. I’ve been sleeping well, getting a walk almost every day. Things are good.“

“Things are good,“ she echoed… and then she went silent on me, sitting in her chair, completely still and quiet, looking at me with a pleasant but neutral expression.  We had been working together long enough that we both recognized that my response was a weak opening move.

“Well, yeah,” I said, and I offered a few more details about how things were going, how I was feeling about how things were going, and my thoughts about how things were going. In less than five minutes, we were into it. The stuff about which I had nothing to say. The juicy stuff.  So much for “this meeting is a waste”!!!

In an earlier year, I provided marketing support for a successful business turnaround consulting firm. We worked on language for their website and for partners and consultants to use in positioning themselves with clients.

During my discovery interviews with the staff, one of the principals of the firm described a colleague‘s approach to first meetings with potential clients – companies that were almost always in some sort of deep financial or operational trouble and who were almost always introduced by an attorney or a commercial banker or an investment banker or a creditor with the encouragement, “This company needs your help.”

So, this turnaround consultant would sit down across the desk from the CEO or the senior leadership team and his first question was always the same. “So,” he would say quietly. “Why are we here?” And then he would just sit and wait.

And, many times, the CEO would say, “Well, I’m really not sure.  I don’t want to waste your time. We’ve had a little bit of a rough spot, but we’re working through it, I think we’ll be OK”.

A simple opening question.  A weak first move. So much to unpack.

The consultant would just sit … and wait.

Nick Miller and Clarity train banks and bankers to attract and develop deeper relationships with small businesses. Many more Sales Thoughts like this and a host of other articles and resources at https://clarityadvantage.com/knowledge-center/ .

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