Asking Better Questions.

You may have started reading this post expecting tips on asking your client better questions at the beginning of your next sales call. On the contrary, this is about you and your organization asking yourselves better questions before you even think about approaching your next customer.

Back in 2014 I suggested some of the questions the industry should be asking; questions that would help shape a better, richer future for us all. Now I'd like to get more focused on how individual sellers, sales teams and companies should start setting better agendas by framing better questions. First, let's look at the core issue we have as sellers: we rush the problem so we can start talking about the solution. We're either responding to a simplistic goal -- better response rate, higher levels of visibility, improved reach or -- God forbid -- "branding" -- or we suggest it ourselves. Like so many of Pavlovian pooches, we just want to recognize the stimulus and then launch into our conditioned response...usually a torrent of facts, figures, statistics, claims and credentials. It's time to stop the madness.

I'm suggesting that we'd all be better off if we calmed down some and asked ourselves a few purposeful -- almost existential -- questions about how we create value for marketers and what they might really pay us for. Here are a handful.

What unique or non-obvious problem is our company uniquely qualified to solve for this client? You're not going to read about this kind of an issue in the RFP. This question forces you to be proactive and think about how your strengths align with the client's needs.

How might we move beyond media and advertising problems and start solving business problems for this client? Most sellers never get beyond the rudimentary concerns of the media planner, and that's a shame. Framing your solutions around business issues makes them more important and urgent...and gives you a seat at the client table.

If this client cancelled 100% of its advertising budget, how might our company still create value for them and earn investment from other budgets? This is another way to get past the traps associated with "ad-centricity." Remember that advertising is seen by clients as a cost center -- something to be managed and economized -- while marketing is a profit center and a key to growth.

Knowing that your customer has more than enough places to run advertising (and doesn't need another one), what's the very best purpose and role our company could play for them? This question is indeed an existential one: At a time when ignoring swim lanes is becoming the norm, you don't want to be the last one sitting politely in your silo waiting for the next budget. If you're not trying to be more for your customer, you will almost certainly end up being less.

My standing recommendation to creative sellers is to buy a copy of "A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas" by Warren Berger. It will change you.