The RAS or reticular activating system in the brain alerts or arouses us. When selling something, tapping into and activating the RAS system is a key way to trigger sales.
Think back to your last car purchase…
I’ll not quickly forget mine. My 20-year-old car was starting to have reliability issues. While still okay as a backup, get-around-town vehicle, I was no longer feeling safe about road trips.
I’d been pleased with all the years of reliable service, so decided to go for the same brand. It was safe, reliable, and made me feel good driving it.
The salesman did all the right things.
He asked questions and listened.
“What are you looking for?”
“The same great reliability, but I’m thinking I might need something a dash bigger so it’s easier to get my Mom’s rolling walker in and out.”
“Okay, let’s start there.” He took me to the model that was the next size up.
I’m just under 5’2”. Short/petite…pick your choice. I slid behind the wheel. I felt like I was in an old sit-com I had seen on television. Carol Burnette dressed as a little girl, sitting in this monstrous chair. The car felt like it was ten feet wide and twenty feet long.
“It’s nice,” I murmured, but it’s so big.”
“All right, now let’s go see the C300.”
I remember the first adjectives that popped into my head were muscular and sexy. I’m a marketer…I know better…yet, that’s how the brain works.
I slid behind the wheel and it felt… “right.”
The fact that it was the previous year model that had been purchased as a fleet car, but had only 34 miles on it didn’t hurt. It would be sold as a “certified used” vehicle. That meant a great warranty…just like a new car, with a lower price tag.
Emotion first…appearance, touch, feel. Validation justified by value for investment.
Emotional triggers are tightly nested in the RAS. They serve to alert and protect us. Friend or foe. Threat or suitable mate. And they also trigger a buy response.
30 years of marketing…
Not just being a woman, but dominantly marketing to women for the past thirty years, I realized how effective RAS triggers could be.
Women expect to be treated with respect, we as marketers have to keep that first and foremost.
Give us a great buying experience that caters to our emotional RAS triggers. Then help us validate it with the proof to back up the value.
Keep your customers Key RAS Triggers in mind
To effectively use RAS to trigger sales, you have to take into account who your customer is. Male, female, demographics, psychographics. We all have slightly different triggers.
When selling B2C or D2C you are selling to the end-user. Their RAS triggers are different than if you were selling B2B – one business to another.
Selling B2B you are selling to someone whose job is tied to their performance. Poor performance, making a bad choice, not only costs the business money, it could cost them their job. The sale process is uniquely different.
When dealing with the end-user, the more clearly you have her defined, the easier it will be to trigger a sale.
Her? Yes. Studies have revealed that 85% of all consumer goods have a woman making the buy. When you consider her circle of influence, husband, kids, parents, friends and colleagues…she influences 95% of all sales.
3 Key RAS Triggers
There are numerous ways to approach the use of RAS in marketing. You can find techniques divided into eight or more categories. However, there is a fair amount of overlap. I group them into Urgency, Avarice, and Dopamine Rush.
A sense of urgency triggers us to take action. It ties back to the fight or flight syndrome. If we see fire coming, we get out of harms’ way. If we’re in the grocery store and hear the intercom announce a five-minute sale or free-gift, we may head on over…now.
We don’t want to be left out. We don’t want to be excluded from an opportunity.
Holidays and events trigger a sense of urgency for desirable items. Christmas gifts, decorations, and food choices. Fourth of July grills, hotdogs, hamburgers and beer….and don’t forget the fireworks. Ski slopes opening. Camping season starting. Back to school deadlines.
For a product, we particularly like or want, and there are only three left…scarcity triggers our urgency button.
Urgency is often tied to time, a deadline, or physical limitation… like limited quantity. “While supplies last,” or “ends at 3 PM” both trigger a sense of urgency.
You can also see the trigger of urgency in action on the television sales channels. The clock is ticking, the stock is limited and the phones are ringing.
Some might call this greed, yet that is a word with a lot of negative connotations. Everyone likes to feel they got a good deal or good value for the money or time invested. That doesn’t make them greedy.
We like the feeling we get for our savings and value. Discounts, bonuses, free shipping, reward points.
When we see holiday items on sale…that triggers two buttons both urgency and avarice.
Keep in mind, it’s not always a discount sale.
Rewards programs, a special gift with purchase, packaged vacation deals all offer enhanced value and trigger purchases.
Bonuses are a superpower that can dwarf discounts in sales analytics…ROI.
A great example is those infomercials where the guy is selling a pack of knives. They focus on what the knife excels at. Only at the end to they start stacking on the bonuses. At this point the viewer can’t help themselves, they pick up the phone and call, or click the buy button.
The bonuses enhance the central product.
Bonuses make it work better, more efficiently, provide additional information and at FREE, they enhance value. The bonuses are typically a limited time offer, so we add scarcity and urgency to the mix.
Dopamine is the “feel-good” hormone. It is released when we experience pleasure. Having sex and eating chocolate are both tied to a dopamine rush.
A sense of belonging is important to both men and women. Fitness centers, elite clubs or groups use this. So do Harley Davidson, Husqvarna, MAC and IT Cosmetics, and numerous soft-drink and beer manufacturers. Brand advocates.
The higher your ranking with an airline…the earlier you get on and off the airplane.
For men, the triggers also tie into sexual prowess, self-esteem, and manliness.
Women have the equivalent of the masculine triggers. As caregivers, they add a broader range.
Among the female triggers are benevolence, social value, empathy, and personal gratification.
Charities frequently play to remorse and benevolence to get people to chip in and help out. The viewer/reader is better off and needs to lend a hand, donate.
When your social values align with a company, you are more apt to spend with them. “Family-oriented,” “your trusted source,” both promote social similarities. Helping humanity can do the same.
When we give a gift and the recipient enthusiastically loves it, we get an emotional empathy response…we get to share their joy. So purchases that create joy give women a dopamine empathy response. They feel good and are likely to repeat the pattern. Find that perfect item and buy it quickly.
Studies have shown women get a dopamine rush every time they have a positive buying experience. It’s similar to the rush men get from an exciting sports event.
Marketers behind the modern department store capitalized on the dopamine rush.
They invited women to come in, not occasionally, but frequently. Decades before they could vote, women could grab their purses, visit, connect, and shop. And shop they did. It triggered a social change. They had found a place they could act independently. No one monitored their every movement.
Shopping empowered women. When you combine that with the quest for a perfect gift to trigger an empathy response, you have potent buying urges.
Key RAS triggers are powerful
When you create a buying experience that combines these three triggers the power explodes into sales. Urgency or scarcity, getting a great deal or bonus, and a positive user-focused buying experience is a great formula for successful sales.
This is equally true in person, or online. It’s something I keep at the forefront when I work with clients.
In-depth knowledge of the customer.
A clear understanding of the product being offered.
Then tie it into a fabulous experience complete with urgency, and a great value
Have you noticed that everything is on sale right now? Businesses are trying to recover from lost revenues. So many are focusing on slashing prices and having sales. It’s a bonus for everyone right now, but are sales training your customers?
I don’t know about you, I’ve lost count how many sales emails I get daily.
I had a friend, let’s call her Kathy, who had a beauty salon. When things got slow, Kathy had a special. Discounted services. I remember a conversation we had…
The high price of sales
“I’m so excited, things are picking up, Judi. Putting that special on Facebook really worked.”
“I’m delighted for you,” I responded but something I’d heard once kept niggling at the back of my brain. I didn’t say anything as I certainly didn’t want to be a downer.
Two days later I got a call,” We’re booked a month out! Clients are coming out of the woodwork for our specials.”
So several months later when things slowed down again, Kathy ran more specials. The books again filled and Kathy was all smiles.
I didn’t see Kathy for a while, then dropped in to visit with her at her salon.
The phone rang and she raised a finger to pause our conversation and reached to answer it. “Hi, this is Kathy, how can I help you.?”
I leaned against the counter waiting for her to finish.
“Specials? I’m sorry, you missed our offer last month.”
From where I was standing, I couldn’t miss the caller’s response. “Oh well. Could you let me know when you’re having your next special? I’ll just wait.”
My gaze flicked to Kathy’s face…it was crestfallen. She had trained her clients to wait for sales.
I’ve seen this scenario repeated over and over by diverse businesses over the years.
Many department stores actually initially price goods above the MSRP knowing they will have to mark them down. They skim the cream with the first sales. Then in 5-6 weeks maximum, they start dropping the price….and it never goes back to normal. They have to move it out before the next batch comes in.
I used to love shopping with my girlfriend at Nordstroms in San Francisco. Our mission…to see what great new stuff had reached the markdown stage.
Think of your local furniture or mattress store… they are ALWAYS having some sort of sale. Instead of adding value or creating a desire another way, they focus on discounting products. Sure, we know they mark them up then mark them down, but they’ve trained customers to watch for the word sale.
Are sales training your customers?
It’s important to keep in mind, our marketing techniques teach our customers what to expect from us. If we’re always having sales, they lump us in with budget discounters.
It’s the halo effect or guilt by association.
While it might be a win for businesses and consumers in a pandemic when most people’s funds are crunched, this can become a fixed mindset or cycle.
Sales will become more and more dependent on the discounts you offer. They will become commonplace and expected.
With lower profits, it gets progressively harder for a business to stay viable. What you need…alternatives.
At the same time, your brand’s value is dropping in the eyes of the consumer because of the constantly discounted prices.
3 Alternative Techniques
There are actually lots more than just three techniques, but these are particularly suited to those with an online presence be it products or services.
As an alternative to a discount, they tend to lean on scarcity and urgency as motivators.
Transparent Pricing alternatives
Transparent pricing is about showing “how” you control costs so you can offer a product at significantly lower than a competitor. You feature both the quality of your product, and the steps you take to control costs.
For example, Everlane is an online eCommerce operation. They have few brick and mortar stores, no traditional advertising, and offer no discounts.
This snippet from a Google ad explains their concept well:
Timeless Pieces Made with High-Quality Materials Designed to Last for Years. Shop Modern Luxury Basics. Ethically Sourced, Radically Priced. Ethically Made. Radical Transparency. Modern Basics. Types: A-Grade Cashmere, Luxe Alpaca, Soft Cotton, Italian Merino.
A look at their website confirms they have high-end goods and very few items on sale. I would assume those that are…weren’t good sellers.
They also incorporate a social responsibility aspect with their 100% Human line. A portion of all sales benefits the ACLU human rights efforts.
Dollar Shave Club is one of the best known of this type of marketing. By cutting out the middlemen, they went direct to consumer, D2C. They went with a simple basic product…a razor. Their target market 20-30 year-olds who wanted a razor without the frills.
For their subscription, they no longer have to remember to buy razors. The products are auto-shipped on a monthly basis.
This model used in the alternative health industry extensively. The challenge for the consumer is keeping up with their product usage so that they don’t end up with a backlog.
It’s a fact, some people use more than others. Options on the delivery schedule might resolve this issue and increase the customer lifetime value.
A variation on this theme are Membership programs. Commonly, there is an annual or monthly fee automatically charged. The member then either gets automatic gift packs or can use their “credit” to select items they’d like to purchase. Wineries and wine clubs often use this style.
Freebies and Extras
The products are sold at full price. For each purchase level, which varies from company to company, you get bonus gifts.
I’ve seen this used with cosmetic lines like MAC and IT. Cosmetics have a broader markup, especially D2C. The company can expose buyers to products they either love or haven’t tried.
The perfume industry also uses this format to give extras with good cause. Why?
Studies by psychologists revealed the people would rather have a 2-for-1 than getting something at 50% value. They transfer the value of the priced item to the gift item…regardless of its true value.
A clothing company for surfers called Surfstitch also uses this model. They offer free gifts at the $100 and $200 mark.
The type of program you might want to incorporate could be one of the above or other alternatives. All rely on value, convenience, scarcity, and or urgency instead of giant markdowns.
When I work with clients, I want to understand their goals and ideal customer. Then I can recommend one of the various strategies to build brand value and loyalty without constant sales.
The key to successful marketing is focusing on the client’s pain points. In today’s chaotic world that’s the 3 Sisters…physical pain, anxiety, and inadequate sleep. Each of the three feeds of the others and accelerates the client’s problem into a vicious cycle.
About ten days ago I woke up to stabbing pain from my lower back to my calf. I tried shifting position and the pain shot from a 6 to at least an 8. I had trouble controlling my breathing to say nothing of fighting back against the agony.
I bumped up my anti-inflammatories especially CBD. Topical and oral.
It helped some, but it took diagnostics to realize it was sciatica. In the midst of a pandemic, dashing to a doctor was low on my desirability list. I had to figure it out with my husband’s help. Fortunately, as an athlete, he had some experience with pain.
When you have pain like sciatic it interferes with your life, your work, your sleep, and your thinking. The pain triggers less sleep, you feel tired and can’t think as well.
Pain also raises your stress level which in turn affects sleep and how you function.
When I added a few of the right kinds of movements for my form of sciatica to the anti-inflammatory regime, the pain dropped to the one-two range in short order.
Your client needs help like that.
No one ever diagnosed me with arthritis, but it’s a problem that most people develop as we age. Some suffer from it as early as in their thirties or forties. Others of us are blessed to delay it much longer.
When we focus on the three sisters of pain we address three RAS triggers our clients face and try to cope with. They are those magic pain points we search for.
It’s important to remind them that they may need to do more than pop pills or other ways to ingest CBD. They need to identify the problem and add the proper physical movements for maximum results.
From my personal experience, the combination can be life-changing…quickly.
3 Techniques to Deal with the 3 Sisters
Since we know it is a complex problem, it’s always best to suggest they seek professional help so they know exactly what they are dealing with if the pain doesn’t go away in a short period of time.
I didn’t do that when I had severe groin pain that I thought was a pulled muscle. Six months later I was still in agony. One Xray had the answer. The cartilage had snapped and I was bone on bone needing a hip replacement.
A problem is so much easier to cure when you know exactly what the problem is.
Once that recommendation has been made then focus on these three techniques.
Focus on how the formula address the 3 Sisters
Synergies in formulas have been often overlooked in CBD products. It’s not just the presence of CBD but how the product is put together.
The supporting ingredients are equally important. Antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, calming agents, stress soothers. Share the magic of your blend while staying within the FDA requirements.
I’m not a scientist or a formulator but I’ve worked with ingredients found in supplements and skincare for over 25 years. There are ways to phrase things to get your message across and not make medical claims.
To talk about its features is important. However, if you are selling to the consumer, they are more focused on the benefits…how it will impact their life.
Address the inter-relation of the 3 Sisters
Your prospect is probably already realizing that their problem is affecting them in multiple ways. You validate that when you address the interaction between sleep, pain, and stress.
It makes your product that much more believable and gives them hope.
Refer them back to the synergy of your product and how the different ingredients impact each of the sisters.
Tie your recommendations into minor lifestyle changes that can boost the impact of their experience and results.
Share a success story
There is nothing like a client success story as social proof on the results of your product. Yes, we have to choose words carefully.
The client has to match your target client and have the right RAS points. They need to be willing to share their experience. You may need to interview them and get more in-depth information.
We then need to show how the product improved their quality of life. We can share that they said they felt so much better, that they were able to do more.
Those aren’t medical claims. They were results a client experienced.
Your subject line determines the fate of your email. You only have seconds for your reader to decide. This system used by marketers in the know can raise your open rates by 300%.
If your email inboxes look anything like mine there can be 30-100 new emails each one waiting for attention. It’s enough to elicit a groan.
Our brains are designed to protect us. It goes on autopilot. It triggers us to scan and delete highly efficiently. Reduce stress. Clear the inbox. Hit delete.
The result is a lot of those emails never get read. The decision is based on two key things…who its from and the subject line.
Sure we may open every email from a friend, parent or kid. We’re not so lenient with businesses or someone we don’t know.
I’ve been in business since before there were emails. All marketing messages were received in the mail. We were just as good at sorting through that pile of mail as we are emails. The good news…less print mail is kinder to the planet.
Still, the job of sorting through messages has to be done.
Time is king when you are in business and we have to be experts at sifting through email to determine value. If we quick at it, we would never get the business run.
On the other side of the coin, as a digital content specialist, my marketing goal is to get my message read by the customer or prospect. There are some insider techniques I use to make that happen.
When we hear from a company we want to know what their message is. Are they sharing information…or trying to sell us something?
One practice I see regularly is what I call a “fake hook” subject line. They use a clever headline that tricks out brain to want to know more. We open it to discover the message has nothing to do with the subject line.
It feels like a trick and is a good way to be shifted into a spam file. I discourage clients from using this technique.
To keep customers, you need to build and maintain trust. Avoid practices that make them question you. Keep the subject line tied to the message.
4-Us get emails read.
I find creating subject lines much easier after I craft my message. Once I’m happy with the message, then I use the 4-U formula to create a subject line designed to get read.
The 4-U’s stand for urgency, usefulness, uniqueness, and ultra-specificity.
How strong is the real reason the prospect should want to buy this product or service today, right now, right away?
Several factors can increase urgency. Scarcity – only a limited quantity is available. They do this with wine. Only a very limited number of bottles of this vintage are available and when they are gone…there won’t be anymore.
Sometimes they will use the… “you don’t want to have to wait for us to get this back in stock.”
During the coronavirus, toilet paper and other paper goods went out of stock because of fears of scarcity.
Scarcity might also relate to availability at a given price for a very limited time with a hard rock-solid deadline. Think of the 10-minute sales in the grocery store.
The subject line should also communicate how this product/service is useful or has value to the potential buyer.
“Pain point” products use this regularly.
Sleep better, manage discomfort, lose weight, grow hair, reduce stress. Anything that makes the prospect’s life easier, builds confidence and boosts morale is useful.
In today’s busy, high-stress world, useful has high value.
This requires knowing what makes your product different from the competition on the market.
It’s not enough to say “we’re better” the prospect wants to know how and why.
Uniqueness is the reason, to “buy from you.” It’s tied to your unique selling position, (USP).
In the world of CBD product lines try to differentiate themselves by using full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or isolates. Locally grown. Independent lab-tested. Certifications, and more.
What the customer may see is that there are a number of products that all say this. As the CBD market grows and becomes more sophisticated, I’m seeing specialty formulations. Unique formulations for a specific target.
The skincare market has been doing this for decades. Generic “good-for-everyone” products can’t hold a candle to a product specific to my unique skin type and needs.
Dry mature skin has different needs from a young combination or oily skin. The same exact formulation doesn’t work equally well for both.
Beauty service specialists set themselves apart as unique using unusual or unique techniques designed for specific needs, Think stylists who specialize in curly hair, fine hair, thick hair, thin hair, hair of different ethnic cultures. They also may offer unique specialty services like extensions, wig fitting or color techniques.
Find the niche that gives your products or formulations uniqueness.
Avoid being vague at all costs.
A giant sign that says: SALE, doesn’t tell you much. It’s a general statement.
We don’t know what, where, or how long. Maybe the sale was a month ago but someone didn’t take the sign down.
Score Your Email Subject Line
Once you create your subject line run it through the 4-U’s scorecard.
For each of the U’s give your subject line a score from 1 to 4. A score of 1 is low and a score of 4 would be high. Your total will range from 4 to 16. Divide this by 4.
If your end total is under 2.5, start over. Scores between 2.5 and 3.5 could stand a little tweaking. If you have 3.5 or higher…it’s ready to send
Uniqueness – The combination of fresh-picked today, organic, and a price of $25 for a flat of strawberries would have most women fighting over them. At the Farmer’s Market last Saturday they were going for over $40 for a flat. – 4
Ultra-specificity – the subject line is very specific. – 4
I work with clients to get the right message and the right subject line to get that message opened. I’ve found this insider method helps to craft targeted subject lines to get messages read.
Your customer-focus could be the biggest key to getting and retaining customers. How well you focus on the user, your customer is the most important aspect of business success today.
Beware being business-centric
I remember the weekend I decided to do something about chronic pain. I’d had hip pain for months, stabbing with every step I took. I tried everything. That weekend I decided to try oral CBD.
I’d been getting emails for a while from a major company. What I read said they had a trustworthy reputation. That week, I’d gotten an email about a sale they were having.
After going to the website and locating the product I wanted to try, I tried to enter the discount code from the email. It didn’t work. It was late afternoon on Friday. I tried to reach out to them, but with a two-hour time difference, no help was available. Maybe in the morning.
Saturday morning, I tried again. The code still didn’t work. I tried to reach them…no one covered questions on the weekend.
Pain and frustration soared. I finally, placed an order and in the notes section, explained that the code didn’t work.
About a week later, I received my product – full price, no discount.
The next month, I needed some CBD chewies for my anxious dog. A discount code came in an email so I tried again. They were a highly respected company after all.
You guessed it…the code didn’t work.
Poor communications sour customer-focus
I’ve never ordered from them since. They had damaged my trust. If you can’t supply customer support, send out coupon codes that don’t work, and never respond to messages…I don’t care how big you are.
That huge company is business-centric. They do what is convenient for them and it better be good enough for the customer. If they aren’t careful, they will run out of people willing to deal with them online.
Having run my own e-commerce firm for 25 years, I certainly realize every business has limitations. However, there needs to be workarounds in place for customer support and to make the customer feel cared for.
The world has changed dramatically in the last three months. Many of us are staying at home and shopping online. We depend on the websites we interact with to anticipate and take care of our needs.
A business-centric model generally fails at that. More and more people are shopping online, It works and is growing rapidly. Online has proven to be a way for businesses to survive and thrive in the middle of a crisis.
Retention is better than replacement
Online advertising can be expensive. It’s all about the bottom line. Cost of acquisition, sales made, and lifetime customer value.
It is eight times more expensive to replace a customer than to keep one. That in itself is an excellent reason to get more customer-focused now.
If customers have a great experience with you/your website, they will tell their friends. If they have a bad experience, they will tell twice as many.
That makes a customer-focused business model that much more valuable.
3 Keys for improving your customer-focus
There are lots of ways to make your website more user friendly, but these three simple steps will help you move forward. They are all based on getting inside the client’s head.
Think of what they might ask you? What might they want to know if they came to your booth at a Farmers Market, or visited you at a fair or other sales event?
I use the Farmers Market analogy because it strikes at the core. Sales are a person to person exchange.
What do you want from that organic fresh produce grower? What do they grow, how do they grow it, what makes it different from the next booth?
The same is true for online shopping. We need to remember and treat it as a one-to-one interaction.
Key 1 – Your website should focus on talking directly to your customer in a conversational tone
Going back to our Farmers Market…you walk along the sidewalk, (following social distancing) and trying to observe what is available at each stall.
Does their signage make their product clear? Does it look good? What does it tell you about those products? And today…what efforts are being made in the arena of infection control?
If it looks interesting you make your way to the display table. How are you greeted? Do they ask if you are familiar with their offerings? Do they share their unique selling position, (USP) in a clear and conversational manner?
The beauty of your website is the potential to share more in-depth information than may be possible at a booth where others are waiting for their turn to buy. Layout and ease of use.
Is the website fresh and current in appearance?
Does it look like their kid put it together on his aging tablet with out of focus images?
Are there answers to questions the customer hasn’t thought of yet?
How do customers get help?
I know you can’t be open 24/7. Help your customers by clearly addressing how they can get questions answered.
How can they reach you?
What is your response time?
What if there is a special and your code doesn’t work or they have problem placing an order?
Company size is not an indicator of customer-focus.
A small business-centric firm sent an e-sales letter that was intriguing and I place an order for their special. They followed up with 5 emails then went quiet.
No further contact. Three weeks later, I checked and the product had never been shipped. Click-bank issued me a full refund.
A customer-centric small local winery ran a special on their to-die-for Rosé. The discounted price worked but heavily discounted shipping didn’t kick in. They helped me solve the problem in a quick 2-minute call.
Mindset and focus, not size. Find ways to improve customer service.
Move on past Covid19…
It’s time to give up the coronavirus excuses. Shipping is pretty much back to normal…although buyers tend to be more accustomed to delays.
Sure, some items may be out of stock and take longer than we’d like to become available.
That is the new normal.
Most businesses have found ways to get things done and work remotely.
If your phone system doesn’t allow call-forwarding, maybe it’s time to go VOIP. It’s inexpensive and totally customizable. Use the control settings and people can’t call you during designated “closed” hours…instead they are directed to your message system. Simple.
I know several firms where they published a list…need to reach us, we’re working remotely. Customers could contact alternative numbers/emails to get the support they needed.
Move past negative coronavirus messages. Share the positive changes you implement to make your company, product, safety, and customer care even better.
Focus on being helpful. It’s time for positives and inspiration. It’s time for connections and networking.
You and your business are the messages you send out via your website, social media, and email communications. Make them count with customer-focus.
Business problem solving depends on the power of questions. When you’re trying to develop a new product, improve your customer service, or increase sales, the questions you ask are critical.
Journalists, doctors, and investigators are trained on how to ask questions as an essential skillset.
Others from executives down don’t think about questions as a skill they should hone. In fact, most of us either don’t ask enough questions or don’t phrase them to get optimal answers.
Without questions, we don’t offer the answers our customer is looking for. It’s not about us…it’s about what they need.
What studies showed about the power of questions
A group from Harvard studied thousands of conversations between two people getting to know each other. They did it for face-to-face and also via online chats.
Some people were coached to ask at least nine questions in 15 minutes. Others were requested to ask no more than four in the same time frame.
After the online conversations, participants were queried about the interaction. Those who asked more questions were consistently better liked. Those who asked the questions scored much higher when answering questions about their partner.
In a live speed-dating scenario, people were more willing to go on a second date with a partner who asked more questions. Even one more question raised their willingness to have a second date.
If participants are too busy self-promoting, as can happen during an interview process, they miss the opportunity to learn about the company and the position.
Power of questions is critical for your business
A service provider for over 25 years, the power of questions is critical to my success. I’ve coached many clients and students on interviewing skills and nailing down the job.
For wellness service clients, questions were an integral part of the screening process to make sure the service was correct for them. I needed to make sure we were on the same page, and I’d be able to make them happy.
The information I needed to make decisions tied tightly to asking the right question, in the right format.
One thing people often miss…
Just like dating, there is the best order for questions. You don’t start with a proposal of marriage.
Asking the right kind of questions signals your competence, builds rapport, and builds productivity in the relationship.
Four Techniques to take the lead in a question-asking dance
Like most women, I find dancing with a partner who doesn’t know the dance…or how to lead is uncomfortable, to say the least.
To be a good dance leader try these techniques to foster trust, respect, and sharing.
You may start with an introductory question like, “how are you.” This is generally followed by a mirror question. “I’m fine. How are you?”
Full-switch questions change the topic. “What does customer service see as the top three client concerns?”
Keep questions open-ended
Whenever possible phrase questions so you get the information…not a yes/no answer. Yes/no answers tend to halt the conversation. You’re inviting a response and engaging them in the conversation.
In studies done at Harvard, too few questions left participants feeling like there was never a productive dialogue. Interaction lacked. It didn’t feel pleasant.
Too many questions created a stilted environment. No one wants to feel interrogated.
Focus on follow-up style
I have a close colleague who when a client tells him, “I need your help with a problem.” He always responds with a variation on these questions
What do you want?
What will having that do for you?
How will you know when you have it?
What’s the perfect outcome?
Questions like these open doors and allow you to really gain insights into the best ways to achieve your own goals. At the same time, the person being asked these questions tends to feel respected and heard.
Follow-up questions have the special power of soliciting additional information at the same time they build a bond
This type of question often reveals unexpected answers that can trigger innovation. It’s also the easiest and most natural type of question to ask.
Strike a balance
Keep the conversation as casual as possible. A formal tone tends to intimidate answers and you’ll get less information.
Whether it is a phone call or a staff meeting the group dynamics will have an impact. People who close-off and don’t participate inhibit others. The opposite is also true. When one person starts to share, the rest tend to follow suit.
Work to increase questions and decrease statements to get more information and answers.
Give people an escape hatch. If you make it clear, “we’re brainstorming here, there are no bad answers.” People will feel freer to speak.
Make use of a whiteboard for notes. The beauty is how easily notes can be erased and changed. This enhances interchange, creativity, and innovation.
It’s interesting to note that in a conversation, the participants tend to like the person asking questions. Third-party observers in the same conversation, tend to like the person who opens up and answers the questions. They view the answering person as more engaged, present, and memorable.
Get the sequence in the right order.
I’ve read some mixed answers to this one. Sometimes asking a tougher question, or more personal question can help people open up.
The Harvard group discovered that when a more intrusive question was asked and the following questions were less intrusive, people were more willing to share.
That said…think of the first date. There are some things that could have your date slapping your cheek or stalking away.
To relationship build, start with less sensitive questions and slowly and casually escalate.
Avoid peppering your partner with questions. Use the scattering technique to weave questions into a casual conversation that feels more comfortable.