Questions lie at the heart of most every business.
Whenever you engage with clients or customers, you’re probably careful to ask clear questions to elicit the specific information you need to accomplish your client’s objectives. As a life coach, you want to know what your client’s values are. As a massage therapist, you want to know what hurts as well as when it started and exactly what it feels like, and sometimes you may discover through those answers that your client has been treating the wrong spot because the pain is referred from somewhere else in her body. And lawyers are known for asking questions to diagnose legal issues and objectives.
When it comes to our own businesses, though, we sometimes forget how critical it is to ask the right questions and instead speed straight into solutions.
We get caught up in what we’re seeing and how things should be. We’re eager to remove discomfort. Especially in a difficult situation, we often feel an impetus to do something to alleviate the problem, even if a solution isn’t clear.
Catherine recently called looking for help with her sales conversations. That’s hardly unusual, but I wanted to be sure that she was presenting the right problem, so I asked how her sales conversations are working now. As it turns out, a very high percentage (approaching 93%) of her potential clients hired her after a sales conversation.
Catherine didn’t have a problem with her sales conversations at all. She needed to have more sales conversations, not better ones. If I had taken her diagnosis at face value, we would have worked hard to solve a non-existent problem, leaving her real need unaddressed. Instead, focusing on lead generation pumped up Catherine’s client pipeline, and she grew her business substantially using the same sales techniques she’d been using.
Other clients have come to me with unrecognized problems they had misinterpreted.
- Susan told me she wanted to develop an exit plan for her business, but it turned out that she was tired and overwhelmed because she didn’t have adequate support (in terms of assistance or systems) to make her business perform.
- Bob complained about his lazy and demanding support staff, but we discovered that his leadership style was undermining his ability to run his office.
- Renée thought she needed to develop better contacts before discovering that she needed to approach her current contacts for business opportunities rather than hoping they would think to seek out her help.
In each of these cases, solving the problem presented wouldn’t have changed the fundamental issue, nor would it have created a better outcome.
Identifying the real problem isn’t always easy, which is why outside input can be so helpful.
Sometimes discovering the right question is as simple as shifting from “why won’t those cheapskates pay my fees?” to “how can I make my fees more affordable and still deliver value?” Or it may be as murky as recognizing that the problem isn’t your elevator pitch but rather that you hate networking so much that you unintentionally send out signals that you want to be somewhere, anywhere else – or perhaps even that your business isn’t really working for you and you’d rather do something else altogether.
Before taking action to design a solution, use these steps to be sure you’re working to cure the right problem:
- How else might you describe the problem? Words carry power, and if you use only one description of a problem, you may find it difficult to see it in any other way. Instead of I don’t have enough clients, you might say I’m not making enough sales (possibly revealing a problem with your sales skills), or My income isn’t as high as I’d like (possibly indicating that you should raise your fee) or I don’t talk with enough people (possibly suggesting that you need to have more sales conversations).
- Get additional input. Ask a trusted colleague or coach for feedback, and pray for discernment. Remember Einstein’s observation that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Whether you seek to expand your awareness through prayer or requesting input from someone else, get help in seeing what your own perceptions have hidden.
- Look for the root cause. Sometimes you may identify a problem but not the problem. If you keep digging, you may find a single source for what’s plaguing you. Solving the root problem always beats solving symptom after symptom.
Problem-solving often feels more productive than working to diagnose a problem, but unless your solution is targeted you’re just spinning your wheels. Before you act, take an extra moment to be sure you’re taking the right action.
About Julie Fleming
Julie A. Fleming, JD, ACC, principal of Lex Innova Consulting, teaches lawyers to use innovative and effective measures to build a strong book of business and a lucrative practice. A former patent litigator, she is the author of The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling, Seven Foundations of Time Mastery for Attorneys, and the forthcoming Legal Rainmaking Myths: What You Think You Know About Business Development Can Kill Your Practice,as well as numerous articles focusing on topics such as business development, practice management, work/life balance, and leadership development. Before launching her consulting business, Julie practiced law for over a decade in firms of 3 to more than 2100 attorneys, specializing in patent litigation. A graduate of the Emory University School of Law, Vanderbilt University (B.A.) and Georgia State University (B.S.), Julie is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and currently serves as Vice Chair of the ABA Section of Science and Technology Law.
Jory has invited me to write on how to grow a solid business, and I’d love to hear your questions! What frustrates you? What challenges would you like to transform into opportunity? What are you curious about? Comment on this post and/or send your questions directly to Julie@LexInnovaConsulting.com. Please let me know you’re a friend of Jory’s. Can’t wait to hear from you!