Successful influencers use several strategies to make it easy for people to say yes to them. Among other things, they think ahead and plan for why a decision maker might say no to a proposal, and they come into a pitch session ready to allay fears and concerns. But sometimes even the best influencers cannot predict exactly what a decision maker’s concerns or doubts will be, so they have to find out the old fashioned way — by asking.
Successful influencers use a combination of discovery questions and exploratory questions in a pitch session to draw out information, ideas, and concerns from the decision maker in order to take away doubt and uncertainty and clear the path for a yes. Here’s how they do it…
A senior director of Learning and Development, Alex went before a group of company leaders to make a pitch for expanding the company’s leadership training programs to reach into other locations beyond their geographic area. He assumed budget would be a major concern. He also thought that executive involvement in what he was proposing might be a second possible show-stopper, so he prepared analyses and work-arounds for both issues.
But neither issue seemed to concern the decision makers, and as the pitch progressed, Alex was seeing a favorable response from the group. So when the SVP of Human Resources said that this was not the right time for the type of program expansion that Alex was proposing, Alex was stunned. The SVP then abruptly ended the meeting. Alex left not understanding why he hadn’t gotten the go-ahead.
What might have gone wrong? Alex may have left his curiosity at the door. He may not have asked the right questions, or any questions for that matter, to understand what the leaders’ real concerns might have been. Or he might have asked, but was too preoccupied with his own agenda to listen to the answers.
How to Save Your Pitch
Here’s how to save your pitch so you don’t end up like Alex — with a no before it even hits you.
- Use Discovery Questions to focus on the past and present to surface wants, needs, and concerns about a problem you hope to solve or prevent, or about a difficult situation you hope to improve for others or for the organization as a whole. Armed with the answers, you can then match whatever you’re proposing to the issues uncovered in the discussion. Examples: “What would you hope to see us accomplish both short- and long-range with a leadership development program like this?” “What questions or concerns might you have about this proposal?” “What else, if anything, do you believe should be included in this program to ensure that we achieve our leadership development objectives over the next three years?” “What would be your main concerns relative to rolling this program out this year?”
- Use Exploratory Questions to focus on the future and the “what if.” Use them after the discovery questions to help broaden perspectives, highlight the potential outcomes of taking certain actions, and advance a range of possibilities. Examples: “If we were to move ahead, how would you like to see leadership involved?” “If we were to roll out this program this year, on which group do you believe we should focus first?” “If we were to delay rolling out this program, how might that impact the realization of the leadership development objectives for this year?” These types of questions also help highlight the potential benefits of your proposal.
People may not be forthcoming about their concerns until asked. In fact, they may not even realize what their concerns are until asked. So ask, and look to see how those answers can help you address their newly surfaced concerns, and in turn help them to be influenced by you.
Question: Have you had success using questions when influencing? Do you have any tips to share? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Photo credit: Shutterstock.com/Maziar Roohi