By Jeff Toister, Master Trainer for Think on Your Feet® and Author of the best-selling book, The Service Culture Handbook
Clients often put us on the spot with unexpected questions.
For example, a field sales engineer might design an elegant solution only to have a client ask, “Why is does your competitor’s solution cost 10 per cent less?”
We can craft a great answer if given enough time. The tricky part is putting our thoughts together when we are put on the spot.
Elite communicators have an almost clairvoyant ability to anticipate tough client questions. It’s like getting a copy of an exam in school the day before you take it.
Here are three ways you can anticipate tough questions from your clients:
Research: What does your client care about?
The easiest way to predict client questions is to research the issues he or she cares most about. Your client’s tough questions will almost certainly be related to those issues.
You can learn about your client’s priorities by asking them directly or drawing upon your previous interactions. Try searching your client’s LinkedIn profile to see if you have a mutual connection who might share some insight.
Example: a consultant was recently asked to give a last-minute presentation to a client’s team. She thought about the tough questions she was asked in her last meeting with the same group and prepared talking points to address each one. This time around, she easily answered the audience questions with confidence.
Empathize: What would you ask if you were your client?
Researching your clients’ priorities is sometimes difficult, especially if you’re meeting a client for the first time.
An alternative to research is empathy. Think of the situation from your client’s perspective and try to imagine what your client might care about the most.
Example: a company was experiencing production problems that delayed order deliveries. An account manager realized customers would want to know what the company was doing to fix the issue, when it would be resolved, and how it could be prevented in the future. He thought through answers to these questions before calling clients to break the bad news.
Compare: What have similar clients asked in the past?
Many clients ask the same or similar questions.
You can often anticipate tough questions by comparing your client to similar clients you’ve worked with. What questions did those clients ask?
Example: a salesperson prepared for a sales call with a start-up company. He had worked with start-ups in the past, and his experience told him he’d likely get questions about scaling his company’s service as the start-up grew. The salesperson thought of a few examples before the call that he was able to share with his prospective client.
Practice: The Key to Everything
It’s hard to anticipate questions and answer them with poise, clarity, and conviction if we don’t practice.
Like any skill, the more we work on our ability to anticipate and answer tough questions, the better we’ll perform when it really counts.
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