I’ve often heard stories of consultants who answer every question with “It depends”. Personally, I find that kind of thing infuriating. I’ve also experienced people who contact me thinking I should answer their every question for free because, heck, I can do this stuff in my sleep. Why should I charge? I’ve come to avoid business conferences because so many people assume buying me a drink means I must reciprocate by redesigning their business cards, their sites, their brochures. So while “It depends” bothers me, I understand why some people do it.
Then I spent an afternoon listening to Paul Hutchinson, the principal of Hutchinson Consulting, a sales consulting group.
It’s always nice to have one’s eyes opened.
Paul explained that what one really wants to do is answer a question without answering a question. Saying “It depends” is one way to do it and there are better ways to achieve the same goal. This is something I need to learn and perhaps others do, too.
It goes like this; you’re on a client call, maybe a sales or even a pre-sales call. The prospect or client naturally wants to determine your level of expertise. They’ll do this by asking a question. General questions are fine to answer. Between asking general questions, some references, published work, …, the prospect should have all they need to make a decision regarding your products and services.
But what do you do when the questions begin to get specific? I remember talking to a prospect who had her team in the room. Every question she asked was “Have you ever…?” followed by “How did you solve it?” and as I explained, her team took notes.
The prospect kept checking her watch. I finally said (essentially) “It depends” and she told me we were done. As I walked out I recognized another fellow walking in. I still wonder at what point he said, “It depends.”
Paul explained that there are ways to say “It depends” without saying it. For example, a better response to “How would you solve…?” is “What resources are available to implement the solution?” You’ve said “It depends” but done so in a way that encourages the prospect to demonstrate how serious they are in hiring you.
Basically respond to their question with a question of your own, one that causes them to open up and reveal more about their objectives and doesn’t solve their problem for free. Some prospects (I’ve been told) will arrange two or three technical sales calls to get their problem solved for free.
I remember this happening during job interviews and that was long, long ago. Does it still happen, I wonder?
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