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Supercharge Communication: 2. Interview Inventively

Professional advisors and persuaders are surrounded by overlooked or ignored communication opportunity. One common missed opportunity involves not interviewing inventively.

Among the under-utilitzed communication techniques at professionals’ disposal are INTERVIEWING & KEY QUESTIONING. These powerful information-gathering tools involve interview questioning with the selective use of closed and open strategic questions.

That’s were the “inventively” comes in.

Supercharge Communication by continually perfecting and investing in EVERYTHING that you need to be effective at and are already good at…interview inventively and key question creatively to supercharge effective communication.

The following excerpts from Chapter 13 in “What’s Your Point” explain why continually perfecting the art of interviewing inventively is a valuable, essential investment in effective communication for professional advisors and persuaders.

#1. Questions to Open Minds and Hearts

Do you know how to ask questions to generate answers you may not have expected or realized you need?

Often, when we are sure we know all the answers, we ask questions based on our assumptions, not what individual prospects and clients want to know.

Whether you’re discussing a referral, convincing a potential client to work with you, deciding how best to help a client, or investigating a client’s negative response to advice, are you skilled enough to ask mind-opening questions?

How do you trigger client responses that provide information essential to helping the client, even if they don’t understand exactly what you need to know?

Sometimes, when interviewing clients, you are probing for opinions, observations, and concerns that prospects or clients may be unaware of themselves. What is your reaction when you encounter issues and perspectives you have not come across before? What about topics you would not normally think of inquiring about? Use your experiences to help prospects and clients understand how to help themselves.

QUIZ: Quickly identify which of the eight questions—four in the introductory paragraphs above and four in the bullet list below—are open and which are closed questions.

To unearth choices and potential pitfalls for others, professional-grade interviewing and questioning skills are essential:

  • Do your professional interviewing or information-gathering techniques need upgrading?
  • For instance, how do you deliberately use open-ended questions when gathering information?
  • Do you use closed questions when short factual answers like yes or no will move the interview along to the next significant section?
  • How do you create an effective series of open and closed questions?

Quiz Answer: The eight questions are, in order: closed, closed, open, open, closed, open, closed, open.

#2. Improving your communication powers is easier than you expect.

However, this transformation does require moving to conscious, deliberate expression in every medium.

As suggested throughout “What’s Your Point?,” this involves shifting to focused, strategic communication where results matter every time. In all cases, the more you know about your target and about your goals in talking to or emailing them, the more effective the interview and the more useful the results.

Professional advisors and persuaders have many communication tools at their disposal. They just may not realize this without training. One of the most powerful information-gathering techniques—interviewing—involves the selective use of closed and open strategic questions. Combined with listening loudly—active, respectful, engaging attentiveness—communication gets supercharged.

Do you find that there can be a lot of talking or emailing when you communicate, but not many decisions that people stick to? Your failing as an interviewer may be the weak link.

Can you automatically and seamlessly switch from open to closed questions as required? If not, you may benefit from training and practice to be a fully-professional interviewer and an effective facilitator.

#3. Strategic Question Review

(1) Closed questions elicit yes, no, or one-word “just the facts” responses.

  • Professionals who are in a hurry, or disinterested, often fall naturally into asking closed questions to gather only the facts they need for their decision making.
  • They may also intend to avoid listening to more information that they want. This just falls short of actually cutting prospects or clients off.
  • Some professionals ask a series of yes-or-no closed questions to qualify prospects. This almost one-way communication can seem abrupt and unfriendly.
  • Closed questions can change the subject, politely or otherwise, quicken the pace, or relay a sense of urgency.
  • The exact wording of closed questions is important to learn precisely what is essential. It is also necessary to avoid responses that dodge an issue.
  • In emails, these questions illicit short responses. These may reveal little about how the responder feels or what they understand.

(2) Open questions trigger information downloading, generate opinions, and unleash knowledge.

  • Thereby shifting the interviewer’s role to one of listener.
  • Open questions, which begin with what, how or why, require detailed responses or descriptions from the prospect or client.
  • To clarify a crucial issue, ask similar, but slightly different, open questions at a few stages of the interview. You may uncover differing answers that surprise even the client.
  • As with all skills, practice pays off. Have a set of open questions ready to ask when you meet with prospects and clients.
  • In emails, when you need detail, make sure you ask an open question, perhaps even two.
  • By mixing closed and open questions, the interview can become an engaging conversation or a lively collaboration.

#4. Learn as much as you can about prospects and clients before the interview.

This preparation makes your queries more natural, more logical, and more fruitful. Those being interviewed will relax and be more receptive when they understand your client-centric purpose.

Your intent must not be to take advantage, but to create the best services and achieve the best returns for prospects and clients:

  • Before you ask anything, disclose all conflicts of interest and fiduciary responsibilities to prospects or clients.
  • Explain how you’ll protect their rights, privacy, and interests during the interview. Also during the entire extreme-excellence service delivery process. This will make them feel at ease and well-served.
  • In advance, ask their permission to ask questions, so they genuinely are in control of the discussion.
  • Remind them that, just because you ask a question, they do not have to answer unless they want to—no explanation necessary.

Are you always ready for anything and never at a loss for the right question?
If not, why not?

Example of how real estate professionals could supercharge communication.

SELF-TEST: What’s a Failed FOLLOW UP Cost You?

There’s no crying in baseball and there’s no “slipped through the cracks” in business follow-up with prospects and clients, external and internal.

Yet, time and again, entrepreneurs, executives, and professionals explain the cost of their failure to follow up with a prospect or client by saying, “They just slipped through the cracks.”

As if the prospect or client had caused the problem!

First of all, there’s no “slipped” in effective communication.

When you fail to do what you said you’d do, prospects and clients don’t slip away from you. They run. Today’s smart-phone-savvy consumers want answers now and results even faster. Disgruntled prospects and frustrated clients will quickly turn to receptive professionals who can be trusted to do what they say they’ll do. Wouldn’t you if you were intent on doing business, but an unreliable executive or salesperson got in the way?

And, there are no “cracks” either, just the pockets of more organized, efficient professionals.

The prospects and clients who you let down or ignore don’t abandon their plans, they abandon you, because you abandoned them. Their business transaction will still happen, just without you. The income or commission that could have been yours ends up in the pocket of the professional who followed through, earned trust, and enabled the client to achieve their goals.

Don’t kid yourself. When you say you’ll do something, then in the minds of over-stressed prospects and clients, you just made a promise. When you promise to do more than you deliver on—whether that’s failing to return phone calls, email information, or…you let down those who you need to earn trust from. You also let yourself down—now and in the future.

WYPt SELF-TEST: WHAT IS FAILURE TO FOLLOW UP COSTING ME?

Let one prospect “slip through the cracks” when you don’t follow up on emails, promises to call, or on anything you committed to do, and you’re the loser on many levels. As you read through the following list of repercussions of abandoning a prospect or client, use the average income or commission you earn on your typical preferred transaction to add up how much just one failure to follow up may cost you:
1. Lost commission for that first prospect or client transaction: $ ____________
2. Lost commission from subsequent referrals from that individual if they had been well-served by you (let’s say 2 more deals you won’t get): $ _____________ X 2 = $ ____________
3. Lost commission from that new client’s next transaction: $ ____________
4. Lost commission from future business from that client and future referrals: $ __________
5. Those un-followed-up-on prospects and clients will spread word of your failings to anybody who’ll listen. Every time your name or industry comes up, those disgruntled individuals will chime in with “promises were made.” You may never know how many more clients and referrals you lose. Or, social media may reveal exactly how wide ranging the prospect’s or client’s negative reach is. Be optimistic and only dock yourself two deals here, but add to this amount your advertising budget for counteracting your proven bad service rating: 

$ __________ X 2 = $ ___________ + $ _____________ = $ _____________

What’s your TOTAL COST OF A FAILED FOLLOW UP?  $ _____________

Even If your average income or commission per deal were only $3000, this list could represent a loss of $21,000 plus the cost of advertising that is undermined by word of mouth and social media activity. Failure to follow up is expensive!

Since not following up is a bad habit, those who do it once will repeat this self-defeating behavior again and again.

This means your total from one missed deal multiplied by how many times a year you drop the ball with a prospect or client is…. Do yourself a favor and do the “bad habit” math: $ __________ .

Attach a dollar figure to follow through, so you always relate the promises you make—from phone calls, texts, or emails to research or marketing—to your bottom line. This enables you to move from “it’s only a phone call or email” to making business decisions about opportunities to lose or to earn credibility and income.

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