Ask – And Keep Asking!

Riding the subway in Toronto recently I was inspired by the slogan of one of the local cellphone companies. Adapting it slightly, I want to introduce it as a foundation or core value for business success: “How do you keep your customers and clients happy; how do you win new customers or clients? With your ears.”

Makes sense doesn’t it.

And one of the best ways to put our ears to work is through the practice of asking questions – not assuming we know everything about our customers’/clients’ needs.

Here’s a blatant example of what can happen when we assume instead of ask:

One of the people I visit when I’m in Toronto is a young woman I met 17 years ago while doing volunteer work with a program called Reading Partners at the Boys and Girls Club in Regent Park. We spent a lot of time together for three years before I made the move to Halifax and we have continued our friendship.

On our way to Yorkdale – Angel and her lovely daughter Jade.

We have an established shopping tradition – a day where I get to spoil her a little bit at Yorkdale mall. This year our respective work schedules put us there on a Saturday and it was incredibly busy and crowded. In addition to the dozens upon dozens of stores, there were kiosks set up vying for shoppers’ attention.

As we walked past one of these kiosks a woman approached us with a pump-bottle of body lotion, urging us to sample some on our hands. Not wanting what I might consider to be an unpleasant smell on my hands for the day, I said “no thanks” politely and we kept walking. But she really wanted to make a sale. She looked directly at me and said: “I have something fabulous for rosacea that works beautifully.”

I’m sure I stopped mid- footstep. Why? Well, as far as I know I don’t have rosacea. I was astonished that she would make that assumption and became momentarily self-conscious by her view of my skin. Not a winning combination for gaining a new customer.

She not only didn’t make a sale, she almost received a mini tutorial. Several times during the rest of the day I had to talk myself out of going back to enlighten her on the error of her ways.

Even when we have developed the practice of asking questions, it is important to consider if we are asking the right ones. (This is where Peter Skakum is a master. His methods have definitely increased my customer base and you have the opportunity to learn from him  at our upcoming October workshop “Exceed Your Quota”. You can read all about it and register here:

Here’s how I recently got caught asking the wrong question – or perhaps not asking enough questions:

If you’ve attended any of my workshops you’ve likely heard me mention one of my mentors in life, Mary Savage. I was her receptionist/secretary in the early late 70s/early 80s. In fact this photo is of me on the phone at Mary Savage Real Estate. When I moved to Halifax I promised I would come back to visit at least once each year – and it’s a promise I’ve been able to keep. Me - a the front desk of Mary Savage Real Estate in 1979

Now Mary has lived in the country for the past 20 years and as recently as four years ago when I went to visit I had no cellphone reception. Of course that has slowly been changing.

This year as I prepared for my visit, and knowing that Mary now owns an iPad, I asked her: “Do you have Internet access at the house now?”

“Yes,” she replied.

When I arrived, my own iPad at the ready and a list of a few projects I could work on, I realized my error. Mary does have internet access  – through an additional chip in her iPad. Sigh.

The question I should have asked – “How do you have Internet access?”

I encourage you to share your “ear” stories, either as a customer or one who delivers service. There is so much we all need to learn about this aspect of growing our business and serving our customers.

One Last Thought: 

There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstance permits. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.



Closing a sale is the natural outcome of inspiring great conversations and listening intently to our potential customers.

This natural approach still involves a process – a plan that moves potential customers through a journey of discovery with you. So ... what's your process? And am I the right sales coach for you? Let's find out.

0 thoughts on “Ask – And Keep Asking!”

  1. Great article Mary Jane! Communication is something I still struggle with in my business. I don’t always know what the right question is.

    Recently, I was in a situation as a client where better “ears” would have come in handy. I went to get my hair coloured and trimmed, and when I asked for a couple of inches off all over I was asked if I had ever had an inverted bob before. I said yes, and the next thing I know, the stylist was snipping away before I could really react. Needless to say a better question from her would have been “Would you like to try an inverted bob toay?” The good news is it’s just hair and it will grow.

    Thank you for another wonderful and thought provoking article!


  2. How true Mary Jane!!!

    I’m off to do a free Lunch and Learn today called “Managing the Beasts”, which is all about taking control of our technology, paper and time. One of things that I’ll be discussing is the fact the even though we have all of these so called conveniences and time savers at our finger tips that sometimes we pay more attention to the technology itself, instead of to “people”. Our technology, phone, email, social media, etc is a means of communication and that communication is only effective if we are “listening” to the other person… and asking the right questions is the key. Being a sales person for decades, one of the things I would do when i didn’t win a piece of business was to evaluate the questions I asked…did I ask the right questions? Many times the reason I wasn’t successful was because of MY QUESTIONS!!!

    Simple isn’t it? Ask and Listen. Simple yes, but not always easy 🙂

  3. From Jeanne Gillard, Sales Manager, Metro Guide Publishing:

    I chuckled at your blog this week. I had once been approached by one of those “lotion salespeople” whom I politely turned down because I’m typically allergic to anything like that. Their response was , “Are you sure because your skin looks really dry”. I was appalled!!


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