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Learn from Harley-Davidson

by Christine Corelli


It has been said that eighty-five percent of your overall career success is in direct proportion to your ability to communicate.  I disagree. I believe that eighty-five percent of your overall success in LIFE is in direct proportion to your ability to communicate effectively in any given situation.

Of all the communication techniques you can learn and apply,  one of the most effective is acquiring the habit of ASKING QUESTIONS to uncover the ideas, wants, opinions, needs, feelings and concerns of others.

Asking questions is beneficial for many reasons. One obvious example is whenever you ask people for their input it demonstrates you have a genuine interest in THEM and CARE about what they think. Another is the answers you receive can provide you with insights you might not otherwise discover--what your customer thinks about your competitor, what ideas your people have to improve productivity, or how you can dissolve conflict with a disgruntled coworker.

Here is why asking the RIGHT questions in the RIGHT WAY can bring you results.

Sales Pros. . .

If you're in sales, you already know the importance of asking questions to customers to help close the sale. It gives you the opportunity to observe their personality and body language so you'll know how to respond. Top sales pros create and memorize a matrix of great questions to ask in their daily interactions with customers and potential customers--"What day would be convenient for you for us to meet?" "What's important to you about this project?" "What questions or concerns do you have?" "How will you measure the success of our service?" "What was your experience with your last provider?" "If you don't mind my asking, what is your current supplier offering you my company is not?" Those are just a few examples of excellent questions to have memorized so to apply in your daily interaction with customers and potential customers.

Keep in mind, mediocre sales people talk when they should be LISTENING. Great sales pros ask questions to get the CUSTOMER to talk. It has been said, "You'll never listen yourself out of a customer," but you have to ask questions first. Develop your own great questions, apply them, analyze what works, then memorize so they are burned into your brain.

Let's not forget to apply that basic principle from "Sales 101"--ASK for the sale!  "Do you want to do business with me?" " Are you ready to have me write the order and arrange shipping?" "Would you like to work with us on this project?"

Asking for the sale should be second nature to you. Memorizing the right questions will help your closing ratio.

Asking questions after the sale helps you to build strong relationships and KEEP those customers you worked so hard to get. "How's our level of service?" "Is there anything more I can do for you?" "Did our technical people take good care of you?" "Did you enjoy your experience today?" Don't forget to ask questions about them as human beings too--"How's your golf game these days?" "How was your daughter's wedding?" "Did you enjoy your vacation?" "How are you feeling?"

Customer Service/Customer Support/Sales Support Professionals...

If you have any type of customer contact, here are great questions to memorize that will help build relationships and breed customer loyalty:  "How are you today?" "How can I be of service?" "Have I answered all your questions today?"  "Are you pleased with our level of service?" "How can we do better?" "Is there anything more I can do for you today?"


If you are in a management position, asking questions is not only effective for morale but vital to your company's success. The challenge you may experience is many people won't speak up and share their thoughts, needs, challenges, ideas and concerns, unless you ask them directly. Examples of great questions to ask are--"What ideas do you have that can move our company forward?" "What might be holding us back from working more productively?" "What the complaints we get most often from our dealers?" "How can we improve communication between departments?" "How can we leverage vendor expertise from our suppliers?" "What can we do to improve the level of service within our facility?" "What can I do to make your enjoy your job more?"

Recently I was at a sales meeting where a new president was being introduced to the company. The crowd was tense from not knowing what to expect from this sharp young executive.  In the first few minutes he spoke, he immediately changed the atmosphere in the room and broke the ice. These were his words: "Well, I'm the new kid on the block. In the next few weeks I want to hear the answer to this question from each and every one of you.-- What would YOU do if you were the new president of this company?"  Smart man!  He scored.

Harley-Davidson Was Wise...

Here's how Harley-Davidson made a fortune by asking a great question: Remember years back when Honda was outdistancing Harley in the marketplace? They assembled their entire work force, including assembly workers. Executives asked, "What ideas do you have to help us outsmart this tough competitor and gain market share?"

One by one, they began to respond. "Let's take the opposite approach to marketing and advertising from Honda." "Let's develop a clothing line." "Let's make it a status symbol to own a Harley!"

We all know what happened from there. Harley put their employees' ideas to work and are not only Number One in the marketplace, but it's a status symbol to own one.  They credit their success to their greatest asset--the combined brainpower of their people. Whether you sell or offer motorcycles, equipment, testing products, supplies, automobiles, fitness centers, or widgets, get out from behind your desk and ask away.

Leaders, Sales Pros and All Business Professionals...

No matter what your job position may be often you may have to be direct to receive answers to your questions. This is especially true when you are interacting with a passive person or making an effort to dissolve conflict. "John, you haven't said anything during our discussion. What are your thoughts and opinions?"  "Those are my reasons for switching suppliers. Are you with me on this?" "Jane, I'm sensing you aren't yet convinced we should be pursuing this course of action. What are your concerns?" "Susan, I know we don't always see eye to eye, and we've even butt heads a few times. I really want to bury the hatchet and improve our relationship. What can I do to straighten things out with you?"

Whenever you ask questions, be "YOU" conscious. "How do you feel about our plan?" "What are your thoughts?" "What's the most important thing to you about what we just discussed?" "Are we on-target with your needs?"

Break the Ice. . .

Whether you're in a business or social setting, asking questions and being YOU focused is not only a great communication skill, but it's also an ideal icebreaker. Practice this skill until you have it down pat.---"How do you like the conference?" "May I introduce myself to you?" "How do you like the hotel?" Susan Roanne's book, "How to Work a Room" will provide you with valuable ideas on how to maximize contact in a large group of customers or in a social setting.

Here's one last tip on asking questions: If you are speaking one on one, use the person's name when you ask your question. This may seem simplistic to you, but it cannot be ignored for it makes the receiver feel important. "Joe, I'd like to discuss this proposal again next week, would that be agreeable with you?" When speaking to a group--"John, Susan,, Harry, that wraps it up. What comments or questions do you have?" Or, "I want to thank you folks at Acme for considering our proposal. Would you like to contract our services and move forward with a contract?"

Make it a habit to ask questions until it becomes second nature. It will improve your interpersonal skills in both business and social settings.

Remember:  Questions lead to answers. Answers lead to rapport, rapport leads to uncovering what others are thinking.  When you craft your questions perfectly, you will dramatically improve your communication skills. Remember, eighty-five percent of your overall success is in direct proportion to your ability to communicate.  Ask away!

Christine Corelli is an international business speaker who speaks from EXPERIENCE, not textbook theory, and is the author of "Wake Up and Smell the Competition - They're Closer Than You Think"  - How to Compete and Win in Today's Real World" . For information on her speaking and training programs call 352-438-0261 [email protected]   www.ExpertSpeaker.com/Speakers/CorelliC.htm
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