It’s easy for prospective clients to get so caught up in life’s day-to-day obligations that they miss the big picture, pushing aside major ongoing problems for the moment. But moments become hours, hours become days, days become years… and the customer’s problems remain unsolved, buried in the quicksand of daily minutiae, smothering their business. Good impact questions highlight your client’s problems, creating a sense of urgency that hauls her out of that quicksand, forcing her to step back and take a long, hard look at that big picture.
People can be reluctant to step out of their comfort zones; their fear of the unknown trumps their frustration with their problems. They’re even more reluctant to change if a provider jumps on them with a solution the minute the problem’s mentioned, more interested in the sale than the client. That’s why it pays to engage clients emotionally.
Give your client time to vent about her company’s problems and how it affects her. As she does so, walk her through her problem, asking her to relive it and calculate how that issue affects her company and herself. You can’t hurry trust, but listening to your customer helps you ask the right impact questions at the right time. This helps you build a genuine rapport and channel your customer’s emotions onto the right path for her and for you.
Impact questions often start with coaching a client into calculating how much she’ll lose by sticking with her current provider, product, or service. Let’s examine Samantha’s approach when she talked with Karen, the head nurse at a major hospital, to discuss her company’s product, the MedInfo 3000. Samantha’s goal: to position the MedInfo 3000 as a great opportunity, not just another expense.
- “Hi, Karen, my name is Samantha Fox, with MedInfo. I’m calling regarding the fact that nurses spend half their time on administrative functions — time they’d rather spend on their patients. Since we’ve helped over 25,000 nurses reduce their workload 40% on average, I’d like to discuss with you how our product could potentially make your life easier.”
- “I’m definitely interested in anything that can make my life easier!” Karen replied. “Go on.”
- “Many nursing professionals we work with complain how they spend more than 50 percent of their time on paperwork and record-keeping,” Samantha said. “In fact, this problem was recently highlighted in U.S. News & World Report. Did you happen to see the article?”
- “I haven’t read it, but yes, I totally agree that as nurses, we spend about half our time on paperwork.” Samantha heard the tension rising in Karen’s voice. “It’s a ridiculous waste of time!”
Clearly, Samantha had hit a hot button. As Karen vented her frustrations, Samantha built rapport with her, following up on Karen’s statements with each new impact question:
- “With all the time you and your staff spend on paperwork, is this adversely affecting patient care?”
- “Big time! I know my nurses are great at their jobs and extremely dedicated to our patients, but we’re being stretched too thin,” Karen groaned. “When I first became a nurse over a decade ago, nurses were typically responsible for six patients at a time. Now my nurses must care for twelve patients each, and we have more paperwork than ever! The insurance companies and the new privacy laws mean that each patient has a stack of paperwork traveling with him—paperwork that the nurses have to fill out. My nurses are exhausted and frustrated.”
Samantha kept her impact questions coming:
- “How’s this affecting the hiring and retention of nurses?”
- “Interesting you should ask,” Karen said ruefully. “I just attended a hospital board meeting last week. The CFO says that our hospital has a 20% turnover rate, versus the national average of 15%.”
Samantha asked one last impact question to size up the problem:
- “Wow, so what does a 20% turnover rate mean in terms of dollars?”
- “Our CFO figures our turnover is costing the hospital $500,000 to $800,000 a year.” Karen sighed. “It’s really a shame—we’ve lost some great nurses owing to these long hours and hectic schedules. There’s a nationwide nursing shortage as it is, and even when we find new nurses, we have to spend weeks training them on hospital procedures and filling out paperwork. That means another nurse must take time out from caring for her patients to train the new nurses. It’s been hard to keep morale up.”
With Karen’s needs clear, Samantha felt now was the time to discuss the MedInfo 3000. “Karen, although there’s no magic bullet to make your problem disappear, I do have something I think may help. My product, the MedInfo 3000, is an easy-to-use, hand-held, electronic medical device that keeps files for patients and gives doctors and nurses access to reference materials as well as the latest treatments. They’re like minicomputers that can communicate between one another as well as store information. Because the MedInfo 3000 stores patients’ files electronically, with all the relevant information on each patient’s treatment, it eliminates 95% of all hospital paperwork.”
Karen was impressed. “This sounds like it could save my nurses a lot of time and ensure our patients’ safety! I’d like to set up a meeting between you and our doctor’s committee about it this week…”
Once Samantha’s coaching encouraged Karen to open up about her concerns, her impact questions helped her discover what Karen valued most: giving her nursing staff more time to care for patients without being smothered under tons of paperwork. Samantha was now able to situate her product as a solution to Karen’s problem—and a way for Karen to keep her nursing staff happy while keeping patients safe and well cared-for.
Note that Samantha was sincere and sympathetic in her conversation with Karen, so they both benefited. As a provider, you don’t want to use impact questions to scare a customer into doing business with you—nobody likes to feel manipulated, especially clients.
Once you take the time to listen to your clients, you’ll know based on their responses whether you’ve earned the right to start the sales process. If you have, sell your heart out. If you haven’t, it’s time to reposition your questions and reopen your dialogue with your client.
After you’ve taken your customer through the impact questions and she recognizes the need for change, be sure to present her with a positive picture of the future that will not only lift her spirits, but position you as the person who can help solve her problem.
SAMPLE IMPACT QUESTIONS
- “How does this problem affect sales? Profitability? Scheduling? On-time deliveries? Quality? Production?”
- “What do you think these problems are costing you?”
- “How is this problem impacting the bottom line?”
- “Let’s assume you decide not to address this problem immediately. What will that cost you this year?”
- “If you don’t fix this problem, what is the potential impact on your business? Can you afford to take that risk?”
Good impact questions engage clients personally, not telling them but rather, helping them to recognize their business problems, pulling them out of that quicksand they’re stuck in and setting them on the road to a brighter future for them and for you.