Your consulting firm is actively pursuing an engagement with Stephanie Stiltsmuffins. The process of coaxing Stephanie from high-level interest to a signed contract revolves around a single activity: Discovery.
However, discovery–seeking information–can sometimes require you to ask uncomfortable questions. Is there a way to ease those awkward moments? Absolutely.
If you’re a fan of the Context Discussion, you know it’s a finely-crafted, six-part framework for discovering pretty much everything your consulting firm needs to know to win a project from Stephanie. Inside the boundaries of the Context Discussion you’ll field important queries, such as:
“What are your objectives?” “By when does this need to be completed?” “What’s the decision-making process?” “What’s your experience with sharing snacks on Zoom?” and, “How can you find anything with so many tabs open in your browser?”
Yet, despite the elegance of the Context Discussion framework, you may be hesitant to ask for some information that would be particularly helpful in closing your consulting deal with Stephanie.
You bite your tongue rather than pry about sensitive financial information, tricky internal politics, or how stubbornly Stephanie will cling to an opinion she’s expressed that could jeopardize the project’s success.
Your hesitance is understandable. You’re sensing a possibility that you could damage your relationship with Stephanie (and knock your consulting firm out of contention for the engagement.)
What you need is a way to diminish the discomfort, reduce the risk, put yourself at ease, and ensure you retain your balance in the conversation with Stephanie.
In every rainmaking situation, you can improve your ability to gather information and reduce the risk of missteps with one question:
The Permission Query
The Permission Query is a question you ask before your uncomfortable question(s). It creates a mutual agreement between you and Stephanie–your consulting firm’s prospect–about what’s in bounds.
You explicitly (and quickly) define what’s acceptable, respectable, and unobjectionable with some variation of “May I ask about…” or “Do you mind if we look into…” or “Are you open to…”
Interestingly, you’ll find during your consulting firm’s pursuits that no matter how difficult, uncomfortable, awkward or sensitive the information is you’re seeking, if you ask for permission first, you’re likely to get it.
Asking for permission demonstrates that you’re thinking Right-Side Up. That you’re putting Stephanie’s interests before your consulting firm’s objectives.
Below are a few examples the Permission Query:
- May I ask a delicate question?
- I have to share some results today that are not altogether favorable. Is that okay?
- May I ask a personal question?
- Do you mind if I push back a bit on what you just said?
- Are you okay with a few more questions?
- May I offer a suggestion?
The Permission Query doesn’t always work, of course. For instance, Stephanie may be wholly unwilling to reveal her pistachio pie recipe, even if you request permission to ask about her crusty concoction.
You may also be asked why you’re seeking the sensitive information, and as long as you have a reasonable rationale at hand, your request is likely to be accepted.
However, even if permission isn’t immediately granted, your Permission Query opens the door for deep, trust-laden communication, and a long-lasting consulting relationship between your consulting firm and Ms. Stiltsmuffins.
Have you had success with the Permission Query when talking with your consulting firm’s prospects?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.