8 Steps to developing the Socratic Method

Sue is meeting with Mr. Corporate, after some initial small talk Mr. Corporate asks, “What have you got?”

Sue responds, “I have prepared some ideas on your new campaign and am prepared to present it, but before I do that could you bring me up to date on your current thoughts?”

Hummm, what just happened? Shouldn’t Sue already know what Mr. Corporate is thinking? Didn’t she do research, talk to others in the company, Google Mr. Corporate and spend hours preparing?

Of course Sue did, she knows more about Mr. Corporates’ company than hemight. Sue knows everything about her product and maybe more about her competition then the competition does. So why doesn’t she just jump into her presentation and sell the guy?

Sue understands human nature and the importance of effective communications. Her objective is to engage Mr. Corporate in active communications as soon as possible! By asking him to bring her up to date she has got him talking about his views and issues. By the way, who is in control?

Now Mr. Corporate is an intelligent man, he also has an ego like anyone else. One of the simplest ways to make people feel important is to get them talking about themselves and their ideas. The conversation continues:

Sue, “That is a different idea, how did that come about?”

Mr. Corporate answers……..

Sue, “What affect do you feel this will have on your previous plans?”

Mr. Corporate answers……..

Sue, “How would you address the additional cost and time to implement this concept?”

Mr. Corporate answers……..

Sue, “So how does this affect your criteria in selecting the right ad agency?”

Mr. Corporate answers……..

Sue, “Mr. Corporate, as I see it, this has changed the campaign significantly and you will need a very adaptable agency to work with, how do you see it?”

What has happened here? The game plan is completely changed! Is the 30 slide power point presentation and the 50 page bound proposal even relevant?

Sue is successful because she uses ignorance to her advantage. She does not assume she knows what her customers want or need, she asks them! Because she asks them and they do most of the talking (80/20) there is a great deal of trust developed. They also tell her more about themselves, their values, beliefs and motives.

If this were your presentation what would have happened? Would the power point, proposal and presentation come out right away? Would your ego have been filled by puffing out your ideas, company and product knowledge? And if so, would you later wonder why they didn’t buy?

Sue is not dumb or ignorant, rather she is smart like the fox and uses the Socratic Method of Questioning to lead and control the conversation.

If you analyze the questions Sue used you’ll find they are:

1. Open ended type questions that require a longer in-depth response.

2. The questions were formulated from Mr. Corporate’s response.

3. The questions forced Sue to listen for clues to the next question.

4. They asked for his thinking or opinion on “how and why” he would do things.

5. The questions uncovered his motives, perceptions and beliefs.

6. The questions brought out issues that would need to be addressed.

7. They helped to paint a picture of the final solution in both minds.

8. They used ignorance and the absence of mind reading as their basis.

So what is this Socratic Method of Questioning? Well, first we should understand Socrates, born in Athens Greece in 469 BC and noted as one of the great Philosophers of all time. His base belief was that all the knowledge one needed was in the person at birth. So the purpose of education was not to put knowledge in, but to pull out the knowledge that is already there! A bit different approach than used today isn’t it? Historians also believe this is one reason Socrates never wrote anything down.

In order to pull this existing knowledge out, Socrates developed the Socratic method of questioning everything in every way. His school operated,with long discussions which questioned everything. His legacy is that he improved the world by having people constantly questioning their beliefs about the world around them, their religion and their values.

So how do ignorance and the Socratic Method help salespeople?

1. It gets the salesperson off their product spewing and onto understanding the customer and their view.

2. It causes the salesperson to be inquisitive and dig for more understanding.

3. It causes the salesperson to develop better listening abilities to pick out the clues and cues the customer provides.

So you’re saying, “How does one develop this understanding and skill?” Here are 8 ways you can develop your ability to use the Socratic Method:

Practice answering a question with another question, such as “Why is that?” “What brings that up?”.

Determine a list of results your product provides. Then create open questions that would uncover or determine how important these results are.

Take questions you currently use and rewrite them at least six times in different ways.

Rewrite the questions you use as “open” questions that use how, why, what in them.

Ask questions that uncover motives, values and beliefs.

Create questions that produce images in people’s minds.

Create a long list of follow-up questions such as, “Tell me more..?”

Practice, practice, practice on your coworkers, family, friends and anyone you come in contact with.

Now why take the time to do these 8 things? Because they can change your sales performance, increase your sales, save you time and change your life!

For more on the Socratic Method of Questioning, The 5 Levels of Questioning, Reverse Engineering the Sale and other selling skills check out Business Architects web site at www.busarc.com or Harlan’s site at www.hgoergerassoc.com .

Harlan Goerger

Author's Bio: 

Harlan Goerger is the National Director of Training for Business Architects. With ove 25 years training companies of all sizes and types in Sales, Management and personal development. His recent book, The Buying Gap, includes new strategies he developed in his training programs to get you "yes" faster!
Harlan@BusArc.com www.BusArcOnLine.com