Many would suggest that to succeed in sales and service it's important to have all the right answers; but while I too think knowledge is important, I suspect that asking all the right questions is what really matters most.
Let me illustrate by way of example:
Some time back I was shopping for a flat screen TV. My first stop "Ah … what's the difference between all these different brands and models … and … um … which one is better?" he led me on a journey from set to set while citing at great length all of their technical specifications.
He talked of DPI, NPR, HDMI as well as the intricacies of NTSC, ATSC and QAM tuners, then compared Plasmas, LCDs and LEDs and even a few 3Ds in terms of contrast ratios and video frame versus screen refresh rates.
Clearly this guy knew his stuff, but after about 45 minutes of this, my head started to hurt and I left the store more confused and no closer to a purchase decision than when I had entered. I also left wondering just how and when I had become so technologically notept.
After a few days of licking my wounds and trying to convince myself I could live with the poor picture quality and rather annoying high pitch squeal that sporadically emanated from the old set, I built up my courage and decided to give it another try. But this time before heading out, I decided to do a little research and find out what some of these seemingly all important terms mean.
A few hours later, armed with the knowledge that DPI stood for dots per inch and that NPR was short for a native pixel resolution, but still not knowing what all this meant or why it mattered, I found myself at the entrance to a Sony Store. I believe I was attracted there by the fact that it was much smaller and looked a whole lot less intimidating than the big box shop mentioned earlier.
Nonetheless, I was still feeling anxious and somewhat guarded when I was approached by a friendly looking gentleman who asked "How can I help you?" to which I hesitantly replied "I am looking for a new TV."
Much to my surprise, rather than lead me to the wall of TVs on offer, he invited me to take a seat in one of several comfortable leather chairs strategically placed throughout the store. He then proceeded to ask me a number of questions which included but where not limited to the following:
- What kind of programs do you enjoy watching most?
- How much television do you typically watch in a week?
- What are the dimensions of the room in which you plan to put your new TV?
- What are the main sources of light in this room?
- How far from the screen is your favorite chair?
- When other family members join you to watch television, where do they sit?
- What is the widest angle off center of the screen are these other seats?
Only once I had answered these questions did he show me the two TVs he felt were best suited to my needs. He patently explained in terms I actually understood why he had chosen these two from all the rest and how they differed from one another. Then he asked if I had any questions. When I could not come up with any, he placed a chair in front of each at the distance I had described earlier and left me to watch one and then the other so I could compare them for myself.
While there was no mention of DPIs, NPRs, or any other verbal display of his technical knowledge during the entire time the salesman and I were together, I was asked the questions he had asked, this guy knew it all. And even though I also knew I could get a similar model, if not the very same TV at the big box store for a lower price, after a few minutes of contemplation, I made my choice and called him over to complete the sale.
Once the paperwork was taken care of and a delivery date agreed, I walked away confident that I had made the right decision and knowing I had finally found someone who could guide me through the set up of the system as well as the dreaded programming of the remote without making me filing like a technology challenged imbecile, even if I am.
So now back to our original question – which is more important – the Q's or the A's?
I believe that in sales and service (and for that matter in life) success is not so much a result of having all the right answers, but more the product of asking all the right questions … and I suspect this applies to both Buyers and sellers alike.