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5 Questions You’re Afraid to Ask (and It’s Costing You Projects)

In the 1936 Buster Keaton classic, The Consultant, Mr. Reginald pauses dramatically, a sudden glimmer of understanding ghosting across his face before he turns back to the prospect and delivers the line that many say won Keaton the Oscar: “Isn’t it possible you’re the problem, Slade?”

Seriously, turning the tables with a pointed probe can play an important role in your business-building routine. As consultants we’re walking, talking, perpetual inquisition machines. Our genetic makeup seems to be a strand of diagnostic curiosity inextricably entwined with SPIN-selling power questions.

And rightly so. Posing insightful queries is a necessary trait during the diagnostic and solution phases of a project. Plus, best-practice approaches to winning consulting engagements, including the Context Discussion, rest on a series of artfully designed inquiries.

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Most of our questions are designed to demonstrate our perspicacity and expose the client’s need for our intervention. However, turning the tables on ourselves by openly challenging our role is a surprisingly effective technique during the selling process.

Unfortunately, these questions scare the pants off most consultants because they appear to undermine your likelihood to win the gig. Take a leap of faith. Each of the suggestions below puts you in the client’s seat, voicing their unspoken concerns.

They elicit a remarkable response: 95% percent of the time, your prospect will start selling you on why they require your services. And with that script, you’ll ride off into the sunset with a signed deal in hand.

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Five Table-Turning Questions That Will Help Seal the Deal

  • Why not do this yourself? This question is actually part of my standard, Context Discussion with every prospect. Internal staff is frequently your biggest competition and this question will usually knock them out of the picture.
  • Why not just do a pilot? If the prospect seems to be wavering on a large initiative, I’ll break this out. Sometimes it will provoke an instant close on a small project that leads to a large, ongoing engagement. Other times it cements the client’s desire to take on the whole megillah.
  • Couldn’t you wait and do this later? If you push urgency, the prospect will question the need to jump into the project. Ironically, when you raise this client-centric question the prospect taps into their driving desire to move forward.
  • There’s a chance this won’t work, are you sure it’s worth the risk? You may think asking this is insane and plants seeds of doubt; however, the opposite is true. Your client is already concerned about outcome risk. This question forces the client to work through the apprehension and conclude the project makes sense.
  • Are you sure this is worth an investment of $xxx? The ultimate in table-turning queries. Rather than striving (again) to prove your value, flip the scenario upside down. Use a figure in the ballpark of your anticipated fees to test the prospect’s appetite for your project.

Are you ready to try turning the tables on your prospects? Which of these questions do you think will work best for you? Let me know by posting your thoughts below.


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16 Comments
  1. Lisa Hamaker
    March 20, 2015 at 5:41 pm Reply

    Brilliant language David – thank you. Great examples of the concept that naming something takes away it’s power. Or, we learn the prospect is not serious – sooner rather than later and save everyone time and energy.

    Thomas, I like your comment about going dark – that scary period in the relationship while they think things over. I believe it’s much shorter when all the concerns are voiced and discussed.

    • David A. Fields
      March 23, 2015 at 4:57 pm Reply

      You’re welcome, Lisa. You’ve highlighted a powerful idea with your comment about naming something to take away it’s power. Thanks for joining the conversation!

  2. GB
    March 23, 2015 at 4:36 pm Reply

    David,

    Your points are well made.

    Almost invariably, when a consultant stops selling and starts asking and listening, a potential client begins to realize that the potential transaction with this outsider may actually yield positive results.

    • David A. Fields
      March 23, 2015 at 5:00 pm Reply

      Totally agree, GB. Listening is the name of the game. I was chatting with the COO of a consulting firm today and he said that the more a partner is worried “about making his number” the less able he is to step back and listen… and that ends up being a vicious cycle. Any time we can stay in inquiry mode rather than push ourselves on a client we’ll get better results. Thanks for posting your comment.

  3. Chris
    June 16, 2015 at 12:11 pm Reply

    about to officially hire my first consulting firm for my company. Your book and insights on the blog have been helping immensely. Much appreciated!

    • David A. Fields
      June 22, 2015 at 11:05 am Reply

      You’re welcome, Chris. Let me know how it goes with the consultant!

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