The Power of “What Else?” aka Follow-up Questions
Don’t miss the opportunity created by follow-up questions in customer conversations.
As our business environment gets more complex, it’s essential that we adapt to that complexity. In previous columns, I have discussed (NIQCL) Need, Importance, Quantify, Consequence, and Look/Listen as a tool for in-depth probing to understand the situation from the customer’s point of view.
Distributor reps have taken this advice to heart, for I have witnessed this process being used on multiple occasions. Unfortunately, with so much focus on the process, we are missing the opportunity for enormously powerful follow-up questions that demonstrate our genuine concern for our customers while providing us with more information about our client’s situations.
So, let us explore my suggestions for some of the follow-up questions I’ve found most effective in uncovering additional information.
Our probing questions start with asking about a need which is either a problem that needs to be solved or an opportunity that needs to be captured. When the customer has answered that initial question, and you have acknowledged their response, the next appropriate follow-up question is, “and what else?”
This is powerful for a couple of reasons:
- It will get all the issues out on the table before any solutions are considered.
- It may be your customer’s way of assessing your sincerity. Often the first need you get is not a need to have but a nice to have. By asking “what else,” you are demonstrating that you really do care, and the customer is more likely to reveal the real issue.
- “What else” also shows you are confident enough to continue to explore all the concerns from your customer’s point of view.
- Finally, with all the issues on the table, you may be able to bundle a single solution that will solve the critical issues.
Each time you get a response to your “what else” question, remember to acknowledge that response before asking the next “what else” question. This approach will take you out of the interrogation realm and make your discussion conversational.
Do not worry about sounding nosey. Leaders are naturally inquisitive, and your customers will appreciate your genuine interest in helping them solve a problem or capture an opportunity.
Another area you may wish to drill down on is quantifying the problem or opportunity. After you have asked all the “how big,” “how many,” and “how often” questions, I have found it helpful to ask, “are there any other data points that would help me understand this issue?”
Occasionally I have found that customers have a unique way of measuring an issue. When I understand their measurement, it often opens a new line of questioning that gets to the real heart of the issue.
The final area that lends itself to follow-up questions is when we uncover the negative consequences of inaction on a problem or the positive consequences of capturing an opportunity.
“What other consequences are likely if we…” will either reinforce the pain of inaction on a problem that needs solving or the pleasure of acting on an opportunity that will improve our situation. This is important because when you advocate any change, the customer perceives there will be pain involved in implementing the change. So, the more you can heighten the pain of not acting on a problem or capturing an opportunity, the quicker the customer will buy into the recommended change. Make the pain of doing nothing more significant than the perceived pain associated with the change.
So, the NIQCL process gives you an enjoyable way to investigate problems or explore opportunities. But like any process, the real skill is adapting it to the situation at hand. Powerful follow-up questions, asked promptly, will double the impact of that process and yield faster and more extensive results in your territory performance. Try it and find out for yourself. It works.
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/sturti
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Patrick T. Malone is a business advisor and leadership mentor based in Taylors, South Carolina. He is the co-author of the best-selling business book “Cracking the Code to Leadership” and may be reached at [email protected] or 404-630-7504.