How much time do you spend on your computer? A lot, right? And how much time have you spent learning all of the in’s and out’s of the software, how it works, etc? A ton.
Now, how much time do you spend in a conversation (live one-to-one, one-to-many, phone, email, text)? If you are like most people, the answer is a LOT! And how much time have you spent learning how to have a conversation? Huh. Uh..not much, if at all.
How can that be? Most of business (hell, most of life) happens in a conversation. So why don’t we learn this critical skill? You have been having conversations since you were two years old. So you know how to do it so well, you aren’t even conscious of it. But when it comes to business and influence, perhaps we should be conscious of it.
Most people meander in and out of lots of conversations. Don’t be most people. Be tighter than that. Be more effective. How?
Communicating with Influence: Three Strategies
- State the Purpose, Benefit, and Check Your Audience
- Ask Impact Questions
- Don’t Leave a Conversation Without Asking Qualifying Questions
State the Purpose, Benefit, and Check
Think of a conversation as a circle. Most times, we just enter that circle wherever and then fill the empty space with conversation. I prefer to think of conversation as a series of circles lined up in a row that start small and get progressively larger. The first circle contains the purpose, benefit, check. If I were going to state the purpose, benefit, and check of this blog post, I’d say:
“The purpose of this meeting today is to discuss three conversation tools. What I think we will gain from this conversation is some insights into how to use these powerful tools to make us more influential. How does that sound?” Purpose. Benefit. Check.
The Purpose, Benefit, Check is the simplest way to communicate with influence at the beginning of a conversation. This tool, when used properly, increases your credibility, gains alignment and sets your meeting out on the right foundation. Instead of wandering into a conversation (or worse, awkwardly jolting someone into the start), you and your partner know exactly where this is going and why. Hugely important. Stating the purpose, benefit, and check is another way you can make your customer comfortable, just as when you make the sales process explicit.
Ask Impact Questions
The second tool is the “impact” question. The impact question is one (or two, not 10) that you have prepared in advance based on where you want to take the conversation. (Hint: I asked a multi-part impact question at the beginning of this post, culminating in “How can that be?”). It gets the ball rolling so your conversation is more efficient and effective, and thus more influential. A great impact question simultaneously respects your partner, stimulates analysis and deepens the dialogue. And it does these things quickly, which is key especially in a sales conversation. Pay attention to the “influencers” around you and see if they use impact questions to communicate with impact. I’m confident they do.
Don’t Leave a Conversation Without Asking Qualifying Questions
The third tool that is essential for communicating with influence is a special kind of question called the qualifying question. Sales people know these cold. Even if you’re in an initial sales conversation, you cannot and should not leave it without asking these three questions:
- Does she have the budget?
- Is this the right time for this decision?
- Does she have the authority?
These are the Three Musketeers of every great sales conversation. For leaders more generally, a qualifying question is the link between the impact questions and your ability to persuade. If I am an employee and I’m discussing the structure of a sales conversation with you (my manager), you might ask: “How do you feel about these tools? Are these something you could put to use?” Something like that. That way, you can test whether I’m understanding the concept.
Here’s where we have to be careful. I’m NOT suggesting that you are manipulating me to the answer you want. Far from it. This conversation, and my answers to your impact questions, can lead anywhere. And that’s fine. But, in order to understand the sales process better, and in order to perform, don’t you have to determine levels of agreement? Everyone has to answer this for themselves.
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