How NOT to Question Your Prospects – 5 Lessons from the Obama/O’Reilly Super Bowl Interview

Bill O’Reilly of Fox News might be a feisty TV journalist but he would make a lousy sales rep.

O’Reilly interviewed President Obama on Sunday prior to the Super Bowl.  That interview helps to illustrate what you should NOT do as a sales rep when questioning a client or prospect.

Lesson #1: Beware The Interrogative Style

For the most part O’Reilly grilled the President. His tone and approach to questioning was aggressive and intimidating.  Part of this is O’Reilly’s style and character and it probably serves him well in the world of political journalism.  But in a selling situation, prospects will often feel intimated with rapid fire questions delivered like a cop interrogating a suspect.  Watch your tone.  Be careful of the number of consecutive closed ended questions you use. Balance them with open ended questions. If you don’t,  they’ll feel badgered and will clam up.

Lesson #2: Don’t Interrupt

Did you notice this? O’Reilly interrupted Obama about twenty times in the fifteen minute interview.  This is not an exaggeration. Watch the interview and see for yourself.  http://www.politicsdaily.com/2011/02/06/foxs-bill-oreilly-interviews-president-obama-before-super-bowl/

From a selling perspective, constant interruptions impact the flow of information. The content becomes fragmented and disjointed.  It is difficult to evaluate an answer when that answer is incomplete.  Regrettably, sales reps tend to interrupt a good deal which suggests they are less interested in the answers and more interested in going through the motions of questioning.

At another level, constant interruptions are disrespectful and rude. It says to the prospect, “I really don’t care about your reply.”  How Obama managed to stay polite and not snap at O’Reilly is beyond me.  A prospect would simply have hung up.

Lesson #3: Learn to Listen to the Content

Even without the interruptions, I am not certain if O’Reilly was really listening to Obama’s answers.  O’Reilly seemed more intent on asking his questions for the sake of asking his questions than for the information Obama provided in return. It was as though he had the questions written on his clip board and he was going to ask them no matter what the reply.  Survey-like. The answers were really not of interest.

This is very typical in sales situations. Some sales reps will ask a question, stop speaking, and then simply wait for their turn to speak again.  Instead of processing what they have heard and then responding accordingly, they plough onto to the next question whether it is appropriate or not.

In selling it is easy enough to ask questions but it is not so easy to evaluate the answers.  Effective questioning must be fluid and dynamic.  The answers provided by the client should determine the next question.  While it is important to have questions prepared, you must flexible to the moment and adjust to the information provided.

Lesson #4: Speak Less

It was also obvious that O’Reilly was positioning himself as a hard-nosed journalist by asking tough questions. No problem with that. But at times, O’Reilly was inserting his opinions and views. It seemed to be less about Obama and his policies and administration and more about O’Reilly’s need to be seen as a tough no-nonsense  guy.

I understand that too but in the world of selling your commentary is not needed nor wanted. Speak less. Listen more. Learn more. Understand more.  Only when your client is speaking will you gather insights, knowledge and perspective. Everything you need to sell lies deep inside your client. When you are speaking, they are not. It’s hard to discover needs when your mouth gets in the way.  Let them articulate. Let them expound.  You can make that happen by zipping your lips.

Lesson #5: Understand the value questioning

What was the net result of the interview?

I don’t know about you but by the end of interview I doubt if anyone (the viewing audience and O’Reilly) was further ahead.  What possible value did the TV viewers really derive?

All we got was fragmented sound bytes from Obama. I, for one , certainly did not get a comprehensive feel for anything from the Middle East to healthcare or to the Super Bowl game.  If this were a selling situation, the sales rep would NOT have been any further ahead.  In fact, he would have probably been further behind because the questioning process was a disaster.

You see, the whole point of questioning is to build rapport, to gain an understanding of your buyer, of the needs and requirements.  It should create value for you and it should create value for your client.

Summary

NOTE:  I am a Canadian so I have no political interest in the interview one way or the other. I could care less.   I have no ‘agenda ‘ except  to use the interview as a learning lesson.   Here’s the lesson: questioning is the MOST important skill you can possess when it comes to selling.  Learn from these lessons and don’t  blow your opportunities.

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