I owe it all to teenage angst. That's right. I wanted to be popular and have a boyfriend. But it wasn't my natural style to be a big flirt. I'd much rather have been immersed in a good book. Fortunately, I found my salvation in ...
Seventeen magazine. I read it religiously to find out how to get a guy to really like me. (Starting to see the sales connection? And guys -- pay attention here. You never learned this stuff.)
According to Seventeen, the key to dating success boiled down to a girl's ability to get the guy talking about himself. And that meant, she needed to ask good questions.
That sounded simple enough, but putting it into practice on a real date was a whole different issue. Initially, I was so nervous that it was difficult to even keep a short conversation going. After one or two questions, I'd blank out. What followed seemed like a deathly silence. (It was probably 2-3 seconds long.) To fill it, I'd start blathering about something stupid. It was horrible.
Finally after a few botched dates, I figured it out. My secret? Preparing the questions ahead of time. I'd start by jotting down a few things I already knew about the guy. Then I'd develop a list of questions that leveraged my limited knowledge, stick it in my purse and take it with me.
Go ahead and laugh. It worked. No, I didn't pull the list out as we were driving along in the car, dancing or eating at McDonalds. I didn't need to. The simple act of writing the questions down solidified them in my mind.
Then, because I was prepared, I could focus intensely on the young men I was dating. I learned about their interests, passions, concerns, priorities and more -- and they clearly felt important. Although they knew little about me (which is a whole different issue), it didn't matter. They liked me and wanted to get to know me better.
Plus, I can't tell you the incredible sense of relief that I felt! I didn't have to worry about sounding interesting or being funny anymore. Asking questions took me off the hot seat, enabling me to really enjoy the person I was with.
It wasn't till I started selling at Xerox, that I learned just how valuable this skill was! Turns out that the ability to ask insightful, thought-provoking questions was the single biggest differentiator between top performers and average reps.
Within a few months, the orders were pouring in. I still hadn't learned how to close a sale yet, but it didn't seem to matter. Every time I set up a meeting, I'd prep just like I did on my high school dates. When we got together, I'd tee things up by giving a short overview and then quickly transition to the sales questions.
Because I had a list of questions in front of me, I didn't have to worry about what to ask next. That freed me up to listen intently to what they were saying and to look for ways I might be able to help. And I never talked about my stuff (Xerox copiers) till I totally understood their needs. Before long, they'd be asking me how soon they could get their new copier.
Go figure. It was happening because an angst-ridden, boy-crazy teenager followed the advice in Seventeen magazine and became a master of asking good questions.
And you know what? I still do it today!