Given the amount of competition out there, the challenges of landing a new client and the struggles with keeping the clients you have – I totally get the hunger to have the right answers. After all, that’s what they’re paying us for, right? Our expertise. Our years of experience. Our guidance. I want to suggest that while all of that is true – our expertise, experience, and guidance should show up in a different way. It’s not about the answers we provide, it’s about the questions we ask.

When we are meeting with a prospective new client, the sentence I love to hear more than any other is “I’ve never been asked that before.” That means I am adding value. I am taking them in a direction they haven’t been before or coming at their issue from a different perspective.

And odds are, the closer I am getting to the best answers.

Many agency owners are frustrated that they’re the only ones who can do strategy inside their shop. I believe that’s because they’re the only ones who know how to ask questions that go beyond the surface or the expected. If you recognize your shop in that description, it’s time to teach your employees how to ask better questions.

It helps if they’re naturally curious. Is their brain wired to wonder? That’s a critical trait when you hire. But if you have some team members who aren’t, then you need to help them exercise that muscle/develop that habit. Here are some tips you can offer as you’re coaching them.

Keep it open-ended: Try to keep the conversation going by asking questions that require a longer response than a yes or no. Certain words trigger definitive answers and actually add bias into the question. Avoid using the words should or would when you formulate a question.

Don’t start off with “do you think” because you’re given them license not to actually think about their answer.

Follow the rule of three: This is a digging deeper technique. Ask at least three follow up questions to your original question before you move on to the next topic. This will require you to listen carefully and not already be ready to jump in with the next question. Especially in a business setting, the first layer of questioning has been asked and answered a million times.

You want to go where most haven’t thought to dig.

Beware of assumptions: One of my favorite questions is “if we had to prove that was true, how would we go about it?” So often, we make assumptions along the way and start speaking those assumptions as if they’re the absolute truth. But we have no basis for that other than our opinion or it may be a long-held belief that no one questions anymore.

Remember that even if it was true in the past, it does not necessarily mean it’s still accurate.

We do some role-playing on asking better questions at our AE bootcamp. If you’re curious about it — read more here.

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