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A New Year’s Resolution: Stop Talking Nice About Your Company …

by Dec 16, 2010, 5:41 am ET

(…and start asking questions instead).

Why? Simply stated: Because people need to know they’ve been heard and understood. Today’s top sales performers know that it’s more important to understand than to persuade.

So what does this have to do with recruiting? Good question. Perhaps you can begin by answering these three questions yourself:

When you make a cold call, how do you start the conversation?

Mistake #1:

Like many recruiters, you might be tempted to begin the call by talking about a “great opportunity” … “with our award-winning company.” But ask yourself this. “So what?” How can you be sure that your “great opportunity” is a match for this prospect? Or even more important, how sure are you that this prospect is a good fit for your “award-winning company”?

Instead, begin the conversation by asking some good situation questions that help you better understand the other person. By asking questions about them up front, you are better positioned to develop rapport that can lead to great decisions for both you and the prospect.

When talking with a prospect (or candidate) about a job opening, how do you describe the position?

Mistake #2:

As a recruiter, armed with your company’s new marketing materials, you might be anxious to list all of the wonderful benefits your company offers (e.g., profit sharing, exceptional training, advancement opportunities, work-life balance). Of course there’s nothing wrong with being enthusiastic about your “product.”  After all, that’s a key trait of top sales performers. But remember, people buy products for what the products can do for them.

Be sure you know what’s important to the other person before you recite the list of company features/benefits. Then, when you are discussing a specific position, target the features and benefits that directly relate to the needs or interests of the prospect or candidate.

When a prospect gives you a quick “no thanks” (e.g., I’m happy where I am), do you know how to continue the conversation, or do you tend to get flustered and unsure of what to say?

Mistake #3:

If you’re like many recruiters, you might be tempted to continue with your list of company benefits — hoping perhaps that something might just resonate with the prospect. But that’s sort of like two people who speak different languages trying to have a conversation. When I’ve been in this situation myself, seems like I just start talking louder (saying the same thing over and over again in English, of course). Doesn’t work.

But let’s face it. No one likes objections. Did you know that objections can be viewed as simply a lack of information? An open invitation, if you will, to ask questions?

In the “no thanks, I’m happy where I am” example above, the best questions to ask are the ones that begin with “why, what, or how.”

Here’s a simple two-step formula that might help.

  1. Step 1: Begin with a quick affirmative statement such as, “That’s great to hear.”
  2. Step 2: Follow immediately with a why, what, or how question.
  3. After your quick affirmation, say, “I’m curious to know –what do you find most rewarding about being at [your current company]?”

But asking good questions can be hard. We’re often programmed to “have the answers” and seem “in control.” “Telling” instead of “asking” is often just an ingrained habit. After all, “telling” does work. It can be quicker to simply “tell” and move the conversation along, rather than ask questions and potentially lose control.

A Little Experiment

Here’s an idea to help you become aware of your own habits. You’ll need two things for this experiment: a tape recorder and a person who is willing to act as your “victim.” Then choose a topic that your “victim” knows a lot more about than you do. Perhaps a hobby or specific professional area of expertise.

Record about 10 minutes of the conversation between the two of you, where your objective is to understand the topic.

Next, choose another topic where your objective is to persuade the other person of something of interest to you. Again, record the conversation.

Finally, replay and analyze each conversation. Note the number of times you are telling and the number of times you are asking questions in each situation.

Who talked more? Did you “tell” more than “ask” — even when your objective was to understand? When your objective was to persuade, who talked more? Did you “tell” more or “ask” more? How do the two conversations compare?

So as you ponder the New Year — along with a possible New Year’s Resolution — how about making a conscious effort to approach your conversations with prospects and candidates in a new way. Stop “talking nice about your company”… and start asking questions instead. And remember, “telling” isn’t “selling.”

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.