Important meetings are often the focus of great planning and preparation centered on their timing and logistics. Usually, research on the companies and the people involved is necessary. But I’m amazed at how infrequently the preparations include sharpening the most powerful tool in human language. That tool would be asking questions.
You have discussed your goals for a meeting. For example, negotiate better terms, or consummate a deal. Those goals are your destination. But you must craft paths to get there. Those paths are questions and the dialogue they will spawn.
This process of clarifying desired outcomes and the questions most likely to guide you toward realizing them is what I call questionation.
There are five types of questions necessary for any selling- or negotiation-oriented dialogue. Like the best programmers writing the most efficient code, you want to create the shortest list of questions to touch all five areas yet successfully get to your destination as expeditiously as possible.
Fact questions are the first type of question of which you will want to ask the fewest as possible. This is because they elicit a “so what” type of emotional response and burn out the person being questioned. These questions start with words like how, when, who and where. These questions are just getting facts.
Objective questions yield the objectives, challenges, problems or desired outcomes of your partner in dialogue. Usually, a pain is at the root of the answer or at least a desire and, thus, a frustration with the current situation. “What is it you would most like to improve or achieve?” is an example.
Consequence questions yield the cost of not changing the situation or delaying an objective’s achievement. Here, you ideally will dollarize the cost of not solving a problem or not reaching an objective. Pinch the pain by asking, “What does it really cost you each day that your situation remains the same?” This can identify how much pain or loss occurs by not reaching the objective sooner.
Upside questions identify the value realized once the objective is accomplished. Answers to these questions can be dynamically different from those of the consequence questions. Once the objective is realized, there could be a whole new dimension of performance, and, thus, a significantly higher level of value can be realized. Asking “What does achieving this objective help you to do going forward?” can help to find future value, not just cost reductions.
After identifying all the possible costs and upsides and the real “why” behind your customer wanting to achieve a certain objective, it’s only then that you can begin to redirect the customer’s thoughts toward steps that will get the two of you moving together toward a mutually desired destination.
This is done with “solution step” questions, which advance the dialogue and tee up next steps. It’s far easier to win a relationship or negotiation with a choice of yeses vs. a “yes or no” outdated and manipulative closing approach. These questions include asking about the best next steps and timing or measurement.
Preparing with your team by building out clear meeting objectives and a questioning vocabulary has much more value than knowing about every little detail you can research. Questionation is your tool for success.