Gone are the days of elusive company operations, 96% of contemporary chief executives rate building and maintain trust with stakeholders as a high or essential priority, according to the 2020 YPO Global Pulse survey on trust. However, they find it easiest to build trust with their vendors (48%) and their investors (45%) more than with local communities (29%) and the general public/media at 29% and 23% respectively. These numbers should send a powerful message to CEOs on stepping up their efforts to build and maintain these necessary relationships. A good rapport can make a huge difference, as well as for B2B folks and sales staff too.

OK, now what?

A lot of what Dale Carnegie included in his book How to Win Friends & Influence People in 1936 still holds true today. In particular, being a good listener and encouraging people to talk about themselves has been something that will likely stand forever. This is particularly true when it comes to customers because people talk to, share information with, buy from, and feel a sense of loyalty with people they trust. That’s human nature and despite the growth of digital media, quality connections and loyalty are still important.

Ask Questions

Customers don’t always know how to express what they need in a concise manner. So don’t be afraid to ask questions – about their goal, what they are looking to get out of your product or service, how they intend to use something long-term – the list goes on.

Think of discovery like a doctor’s visit where the staff asks a million questions in an effort to narrow down what a patient’s ailment might be. Similarly, by asking the right questions, a car salesperson can discover that a customer has a small budget and is interested in a fuel-efficient vehicle. By the end of the conversation, it’s a slam-dunk sale to recommend a compact that gets 30 miles to a gallon on the highway with monthly payments of USD200 over seven years.

Asking questions can sometimes scare people, as they think it makes them look less knowledgeable, when in fact it helps everyone be more successful long-term.

Listen up!

Asking questions is key, but does nothing if you are not actually hearing what someone is saying. Repeating what customers say is a way of reassuring them and reaffirming that they have indeed been heard.  Discovery, an important part of consultative selling, leverages active listening to learn about customers, their likes, dislikes, passions, etc. Successful nonprofits employ discovery with potential major donors for the same reasons. Listening to a customer can also help you in the future when they return, showing that you care about them and their patronage, and that you understand their needs.

“It’s time for marketers, sales staff and customer service personnel to behave like scientists and ask more questions.” – Ronn Torossian, Founder & CEO 5W Public Relations

The same techniques can be successfully applied to numerous other scenarios. It could be a pet owner, prom goer or gourmet cook. Customer service people don’t have the same face-to-face opportunity but can employ much of the same listening and discovery skills, when appropriate.  The latter can be extremely valuable even in handling complaints.

Making a connection

Empathy is also important. Marketing staff don’t have that opportunity either but can identify and segment their audiences to better understand them. They can, and should, employ with these different audiences the use of surveys in areas similar to those mentioned earlier as a part of discovery to gain a deeper understanding of them. The results could also lead to segmenting these audiences even more narrowly and possibly lead to the creation of additional smaller groups with well-defined interests.

Even without an in-person meeting, if you clearly demonstrate to the customer that you hear them and want to know more about their needs, they will likely not only respect you more, but they will give you insights you would have never gotten otherwise. No matter what sector of business you are in, asking questions and actively listening will get you far in your career if you are doing it in a smart, forward-thinking manner.

Is it not time for marketers, sales staff and customer service personnel to behave like scientists and ask more questions?

To quote Claude Levi-Strauss, a 20th Century French anthropologist noted for his work in structuralism, the interpretation of human behavior and cognition, “the scientist is not the person who gives the right answers, he’s the one who asks the right questions.”