Great All-Time Trust-based Selling Insights, #17

I’m going to hand over the space today to a guest-blogger: Walt Shill at Accenture.  Walt does a weekly internal blog for ACC, and was kind enough to grant us permission to slavishly “re-tweet” his recent blogpost.

If you’re wondering just how to make sense of Trust-based Selling, or to see the power of low self-orientation in the Trust Quotient, I can’t think of a better story than the one Walt shares here.   (Look for the ZZ Top reference).

Take it away, Walt.

Bob and his Two Simple Questions

Years ago I was assigned to work with Bob – a senior Director. I was a struggling manager. People whispered about Bob and many avoided working with him … You see, he had an unusual style that was reminiscent of Columbo – the brilliant TV homicide detective from the 70s played by Peter Falk.

Bob was never accused of being a sharp dressed man …. He always seemed a bit disorganized and seemingly slow to pick up key points …. Bob was unfailingly polite, but he had a way of asking clients odd questions at awkward times… I must admit, as I started I was a little embarrassed to be with him.

I did most of the grunt work of analysis and preparing decks for Bob, but I also accompanied him to many meetings in the C Suites of half a dozen companies…. And just like Columbo’s (and Steve Jobs’) famous line, “Just one more thing”, Bob somehow managed to always ask some version of two simple questions in every meeting……

How’s business? As a meeting started Bob would casually ask “So… How’s business ?” The client would start with a basic answer, but Bob cleverly teased out evermore detail by mumbling: “uh huh”, “yea”, and innocently asking over and over again – “hmmm, so why is that?”

He never, never, never responded that we could help…. in fact he hardly spoke at all… he was just listening very, very intently… and asking gentle questions with such childlike curiosity that the clients could not resist telling him more.

Sometimes the entire hour would pass with Bob’s wandering questions and we would have to reschedule. …Frequently I had been up all night preparing a document for the meeting –and I would get angry that he was wasting valuable time that I could use to impress the client with my brilliant charts and precise data and blinding insights…..

Weeks or even months later, we would follow up on the key issues. …. And our proposals were always spot on – Bob had an incredible insight to the core issues facing the company…..

I began to realize that Bob’s simple question – “How’s business?” had been creating a massive pipeline for us.

How are YOU doing??  As we were wrapping up a meeting, Bob would innocently ask, “So, how are you doing ?” If the client started talking about the company or business, Bob would gently interrupt them and say, “no, I meant how are YOU personally doing ?” ….followed by his usual “why is that ?” ..his odd style conveyed genuine interest and caring … After just 2 or 3 meetings Bob had started a deep personal relationship because of how much the client had revealed about their aspirations, frustrations and personal lives… all of which were filed somewhere in the recesses of Bob’s complex but powerful brain.

My respect for Bob grew ……and today I marvel at how he faithfully served senior leaders on their most critical issues, grew a very big practice and built his career (and helped mine!) … all by simply asking and then intently listening and genuinely caring about the answers to two simple questions:

“So, how’s business?”

“So, how are YOU doing?”


What Walt said. 


3 replies
  1. lisa Temperley
    lisa Temperley says:

    Great post, it reminds me of the classic saying 2 ears one mouth use appropriately. Often in client meetings good questions not only help the seller to know whats really going on and therefore just like Bob come up with stunning propsals it also enables the customer to tell you all the reasons why they need you. I always remember a mentor saying to me ‘if you get the chance this year to keep quiet, take it’. Clients will automatically be able to come up with all sorts of reasons why something you have suggested isn’t quiet right. Why because it’s your suggestion and not there own. A great sales persons listens and prompts only with one or two killer questions and those questions should help a client understand more about what they need so they are able to tell you, not the other way round. A final point I feel is crucial as a sales person I wanted to listen and I wanted to know the answers , it wasnt a script or some sales gimmic I did actually want to hear about someones kids or their lastest issues. This I feel above all else shines through when you are meeting clients, they know when you dont care or dont listen and they know when someone is authentic .  Thanks for a great post 

  2. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    A mentor once told me, very early on, take an interest in people and they’ll take an interest in you. Bob, for me, is a fine example of how one can take a "coaching" approach toward creating and cultivating relationships. He’s also an example of how one can take a personal/human interest in others, even at work–being truly interested in others. His two questions get to the "heart of the (relationship) matter." When we leave ego, pride and hubris in its myriad forms out of the equation,  we can connect on a deeper level…a level that says, right now you are the most important person in my life and I am truly interested in what you have to say and how you feel about things – a foundation for trust, connection, and healthy, conscious relationships, even at work. 


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