Debbie has over 20 years of experience directing regional and national marketing campaigns.
“I Don’t Know” and Other Heresies
Güd Marketing is a consultative marketing services business. Yes, it’s true that we are staffed to provide comprehensive marketing services – 25 people focusing daily on research, strategy and planning, public relations, social media, creative services, digital services, media … the list is pretty long. But those are just things we do. They don’t capture the full bounty of what we provide our clients that provides the most value to their business: ideas. And if ideas are the yield, then questions are the fertilizer.
People often believe that consultants inherently know the answer, or the “fix” to a problem. In marketing, this fallacy can be even more pronounced because clients come in asking for an end product such as a print campaign. Or a website. Or social media. They’re not wrong to think in terms of solutions; it’s human nature to solve problems and be helpful. The problem lies in not recognizing this is just a starting point for more fruitful conversation. There are many approaches to inserting questions into the dialog, and each situation calls for something slightly different. There is a lot written about the importance of questions and how to ask them, and I encourage a deeper study if you are interested. In the meantime, here are a few things I have learned.
Use a Guide, Not a Map
It’s always helpful to prepare for a client intake session in advance and anticipate the types of information needed and the questions that might be good to ask. But it is critical not to become so attached to the advance questions that you aren’t listening to where the client takes you. I’ve seen this happen too many times. No matter where the conversation goes, the leader returns to the script by rote, leaving the client feeling unheard or misunderstood. Clients talk about their business in intuitive and organic ways. Our marketing language can be foreign and confusing. It is far better to follow their lead and interject clarifying questions along the way. Know the general categories of information you want to cover and leave the script in your briefcase.
I recommend asking a lot of questions – including a lot of open-ended questions. More important, though, is keying on questions that lead to breakthrough information for you and the client. New thinking often comes from examining an issue through an entirely different lens. One of the ways Güd Marketing helps our clients the most is by reframing how they see their marketing question, which is best accomplished by active listening, and redirecting the discussion in the moment. “Tell me more about that,” or “What did you mean when you said …” are good openers, but “What if…” or “Why not…” are even more fruitful in reframing. To be good at this, one of the most useful skills you can develop is active listening. Being able to track a discussion – or a series of questions and answers – in the context of the entire dialog that has taken place up to that point is critical. Playing back what you heard and adding a challenging follow-up inquiry can work well. Without active listening, you run the risk of defaulting to your script and missing the chance to innovate.
One of the most difficult things to manage in a dialog or group discussion is silence. Silence is uncomfortable, and too often the leader of a dialog session will jump in and fill it. Resist that urge. Let the uncomfortable silence fill the room and don’t talk again until after the client has answered your question. I am an extroverted personality type – I think by talking. Keep in mind, though, that different people process information differently. Some people – more introverted personality types – need time to formulate their ideas internally before speaking. They enjoy the silence, as it gives them a chance to be thoughtful about the information they share. Sometimes the answers aren’t easy or simple enough for your client to glibly respond. They may not know the answer and have to work through their concern or confusion and decide to risk such an admission. Remember – the intent of the dialog is to get their perspective. Allowing for that requires allowing for some quiet reflection.
Whether it’s on a new business call or a client’s annual planning session, I am always inspired by these dialogs and the foundation they create for doing our best work.
Do you have some key questions or techniques for gaining new insights? Share them with us at Facebook.com/Güd Marketing.