BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 08 MAR 2013


A client recently asked if I would come in and teach their young (male) consultants not to go into clients and vomit on the table. I think it was a metaphor.

Scruffy detective Columbo, with whom I spend a few hours most weekends, knew the value of questions. In fact the value in asking just one more. He's not wrong. Too often our questions, if we ask any at all, are perfunctory and one dimensional. "How's business?" or "What did you get up to at the weekend?" or "What's keeping you up at night?" (We think the last one is really clever... if anyone asks me that I say the incessant voices coming from under my bed: a show-stopper if ever there was one, especially if you actually look under your desk, wide-eyed.)

I whizzed to London the other day for two client meetings: one an "opener" and the other a "closer". Starting this blog on the Caledonian Sleeper from Euston to Edinburgh (a reminder of caravan holidays up north) I reflected on some questions from the two earlier meetings.

At the "opener" meeting asking an Englishman with a Welsh name and Welsh family who he will support in the Six Nations this weekend was a belter (England, by the way). My Englishman was brought to the pub by a mutual friend and this question resulted in a terrific half-hour chat about rugby, football, family ski holidays, living in Cardiff with many other topics alighted on. Both my prospects were weekend rugby referees and former players and we ended the night watching the first half of the Manchester United vs Real Madrid game: a good omen for me, though not for The Reds.

At the earlier "closer" meeting my clients started by going off on a bit of a tangent, talking about other work not part of the main proposal: They had just bombed in a pitch. This led to an unscheduled and interesting jaunt through the perils of pitching: truly my specialist subject. All in addition to what other business I was looking to close, which we got on to next.

So what can I tell you about questions? Well, just three more things...

In the "opener meeting" I never sold a damned thing; I was prepared to but absolutely never expected to: it was all about Likeability. But I am hopeful that at the next meeting-arranged on the spot by the power of mobile telephony- I will be doing some business. Far better to talk rugby and football and family and watch the game.

So first tip: Be genuinely curious and interested in the people you are with and make them feel good about themselves. Let them show off a bit... and go on and on and on if they want to.

At the "closer" meeting, however, I am there to put some days in the diary and food on the table. I am going to look them in the eye and ask the hard ones. For sure we spent a while on holidays and good food, but then it was down to business, "Why are your guys performing so poorly in pitches?" "When are you hoping to do this, since it is additional to the main programme; my diary works a quarter ahead?" Are you guys coming on the programme? I personally think you should..."

Secondly: If you are there to do business, ask for it. And don't be afraid to voice an opinion or challenge an assertion: you are no push-over.

When you get an answer to one of your questions, fight the temptation to "go off one one" whether it's to tell them you were a brilliant rugby player in your youth, have been to Twickenham or Murrayfield a million times, or your business can sort out every problem the poor people in front of you have ever had (before you know what they need...).

In other words, keep asking cracking questions that engage them and do it for longer than you think you should, especially if you are a talker.

Put bluntly, thirdly, don't vomit on the table.


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about the author

Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.

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