The great writer Theodore Sturgeon created a symbol he said represented the heart of all human progress. It was a capital letter “Q” with an arrow passing through it, pointing to the right. It stood for “ask the next question.”  He explained it through examples like people long ago who would point to birds in the sky and would ask, “why can’t humans fly?”  In this case, asking the next question, and the next question after that, eventually resulted in airplanes, helicopters, blimps, hot air balloons, and so on.

In the world of selling benefits, there are multiple reasons to ask the next question.

When approaching a potential new customer, the first question might be, “Do you have a benefits broker?” (The answer is almost always yes.)  It’s then natural to ask who the broker is. The follow up question might be, “How satisfied are you with the service you’re receiving?” This often leads to an opportunity for further discussion, and the conversion of a prospect into a client.

There are several observations about this exchange. For one, the next question that jumped to mind was not “do you like the products you have?” or any similar product-related question. The question was about service, because service is something experienced personally, whereas financial products generally are experienced intellectually. 

Put another way, it’s relatively easy to describe products in measurable metrics, and relatively difficult to measure service that way, except in terms of personal reactions. That’s why every time you visit a car dealer, you’re likely to receive a follow-up call asking about your experience, a letter from the service manager thanking you for your business, an online survey. Those surveys can help provide metrics the dealer can use in marketing.

Let’s return to the next questions we might ask in an initial exploration of opportunities where our organizations might add value to a customer. The main purpose of asking the next question at this time is to uncover opportunity that diminishes the client’s attachment to their current benefit providers. 

We all know how easy it is to jump at answers like, “well, we are not satisfied.” But what about other responses? For example, if the answer is, “we’re satisfied a lot of the time,” the door opens to “what happens those times when you are not satisfied?” If the answer is “we’re always satisfied” then you might try a more leading question.

This might crack through to an opportunity, but take care to describe such issues in specific terms and make sure you know the facts that back up assertions of this type and never present them in a disparaging manner. The customer selected broker X, likes their services, and for all you know might have assigned the business owner’s nephew to service the account.

Once the next question has been asked and answered to the point that you’ve identified an opportunity, don’t stop asking the next question, and never stop asking it of your customers.