Can poodles breathe underwater? Why don’t crabs have eyebrows? What does a rainbow taste like? Kids ask the best questions. My 5 year-old neighbour asked his mum, “where do I come from?” She took a deep breath and launched into a detailed lecture on the birds, bees, mum’s tummy etc. A stunned silence ensued. “Oh,” he replied. “George at school says he comes from Greece”.
The temptation to launch into a lengthy answer and head down a blind alley is a constant challenge when you’re meeting a corporate prospect. Sometimes the best response to a question is ‘Why?’. It would certainly have saved an awkward conversation for my neighbour. Taking control of a conversation and getting what you want is all about asking the right questions.
Here are some examples to help your partnership prospecting.
Questions are critical to getting the information you need about a corporate prospect. If you get to the proposal stage and didn’t ask the right questions then you’ll default to a generic presentation that talks about your organisation, not your corporate prospect.
These are great ones to use at the start of a meeting to build rapport with a prospect and make them feel comfortable. They are questions you know will elicit a yes response. Do your prospect research and choose some simple ones. You’re new to the company? You know Bob (if you have a warm intro to the meeting then reference it)? You’re just coming out of lockdown too? The aim is to open the meeting with 2-3 questions that will get a guaranteed yes. It helps warm up your prospect and starts the meeting with them in a favourable state of mind towards you. It also helps avoid the first meeting sounding like an interrogation.
These are designed to get the information you need. The most useful question is Why? Why is that important? Why do you think that? E.g. You say that you’ve got an issue with keeping quality staff- why is that? Followed by my next favourite open question- ‘tell me more’. Open questions require active listening as you encourage your corporate prospect to open up about the issues their business is facing. Digging deeper and asking why? how does that work? what are the effects on your business? how big a problem is that? will elicit nuggets of gold you can weave into a future partnership proposal. You can’t present yourself as the solution if you don’t uncover the corporate’s problems and challenges.
These are questions you know your prospect can’t answer. You can use them sparingly to take control of a conversation and get it back on track or stop an annoying know it all from dominating the conversation. It’s typically something from your organisation’s expertise or research. Do you know how many workdays are lost due to poor mental health? Do you know the biggest killer of children under 5? You’re aiming to put the focus on something they didn’t realise was an issue for their business or for society. It helps to enhance your credibility and challenges their thinking. Only use 1 or 2 in a conversation or you’ll risk looking like the know it all yourself. Your aim is to get things back on track and open up more information from your prospect.
Partnerships are often won or lost by the questions that you did or didn’t ask. As you prepare to meet a new corporate prospect, have you got your question list ready? And if you want to avoid awkward questions from a 5 year-old, don’t forget to use Why?