Answering Questions the Right Way

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It’s shameful the way I used to answer questions from prospects or clients when I was a young man. But even my tender age, or having just made the move from homes to investments doesn’t pass muster as an excuse for my dreadful performance back then. Looking back, I feel blessed there are no tapes or video.

Clients would ask me if the rents in the area would tend to rise during the holding period. And I’d answer yes. The problem? Most folks asking questions want the answer — duh. What they really want though, is the ‘why’ or ‘how’ behind the answer. It irritated me no end that they wouldn’t just accept my answer as if I was quoting from the missing third tablet Moses forgot on the mountain.  I knew the answer. Why couldn’t they just take my word for it? What a moron I was. I could have been more full of myself back then — I’m not sure how though.

That’s about the time I was blessed by the teachings and example of Chuck Chatham. As far as I’m concerned Mr. Chatham was an icon in counseling real estate clients. As the title of his seminar promised, The Art of Real Estate Counseling, (also the title of his book) he was indeed a master. One the subjects near and dear to his heart was how we, as professionals, dealt with questions from our clients, or those pondering becoming a client. He was especially sensitive to young upstarts like me and a few others in his seminar one day.

Imagine a  diminutive guy with what appears to be several centuries of experience etched on his face. He oozed authority. I remember him having an eagle’s beak nose, and a patrician like stare, that when focused on you, was both chilling and assuring at the same time. Try pullin’ that one off.

Anyway, he’d been talking with some of us youngsters during breaks, and was not happy at either our attitude or demeanor. Don’t get me wrong, all of us had immeasurable respect for him. He was just about deity to most of us in the seminar. He was concerned about the high opinion we held for our own skills and knowledge — which he felt was laughably over estimated. Go figure.His preferred and enjoyed teaching by example. He took one of the students who was about to start looking for his first investment property, and asked him to participate in an impromptu role play. Mr. Chatham would do the professional counseling of the  student-prospect. The prospect began asking questions. And that’s when I begin to feel as if I knew zip, zero, nada, about how to really answer questions in a way that actually helped the person across the desk or on the phone. (add email & blogs to that today)?It was awesome. It was like watching the Mona Lisa being painted by da Vinci himself.

I learned much that day

  • If possible, give the short answer at first.
  • Follow that up with an explanation for that answer.
  • Ensure that explanation is pure substance, with no guessing on your part.
  • Give an example if possible, illustrating your explanation.
  • Allow for chronological context if appropriate.
  • Finally, ask them if your answer was sufficient.

You’ll be pleased how many times that last one generates very solid follow-up questions. When this happens it’s commonly an indicator they now have more confidence in your expertise, real world knowledge, and experience.

Why?

It’s simple — you can’t fake solid, substantive answers to real questions. Especially when they’re from prospects or referrals who’re asking those questions in part to ascertain whether you actually know more than they do. Let’s face it, so many so-called ‘pros’ are really wannabes a few chapters further into the book than their audience.

Short and/or dismissive answers given with a tone of false authority just won’t cut it — not in the long run. You must actually know what you’re talking about.

When we as pros answer questions, we must give answers so complete, forthcoming, and informative that the questioner is somewhat taken aback. If you begin putting this into practice you’ll never go back to the short, dismissive, “you’re questions are a pain in the ass” answers.

Why? The change in the way they look at you. You gave them a real answer with an impeccable explanation, and instead of getting served a frozen dinner, you gave them filet mignon. Talk about separating yourself from the crowd.

Of course, this requires that you actually know the answers. That’s always the challenge, isn’t it?

Photo: Brian Hillegas

About Author

Jeff Brown

Licensed since 1969, broker/owner since 1977. Extensively trained and experienced in tax deferred exchanges, and long term retirement planning.

13 Comments

  1. I absolutely agree with you. When you are giving answers you must know what you are talking about. I think it’s the basic premise if you want to be successful in everything what you do. What I’ve learned is also to listen carefully and be sure you understand needs of your customers, partners or friends. After that you can give them some advice or your point of view. It’s highly possible then that your advice will be helpful and you will gain satisfied customer or good friend.

    Regards,
    Jay

  2. Hi Jeff,

    After I read your article, I had a couple of thoughts. I think it would be safe to say that when one is answering questions, it is always good to be genuine when answering those questions.
    If you don’t know the answers, it is always best to say that you don’t, as opposed to pretending that you know the answer. I find that when I personally ask a question of someone, and if they don’t know the answer, and pretend that they do, I can tell.
    Just my 2 cents. (sorry for the run on sentences)

    Best Regards,
    Neil.

  3. Nicole H. Miller on

    Answering questions the right way is just but part of the total package. People involved in people-business should master the art of customer service, aiming for service excellence. As a service provider one must humble himself to the costumer and must be equipped with job knowledge, necessary skills and an extra bag of patience. After all, in Real Estates, at the end of the day, THE COSTUMER is always RIGHT and making them HAPPY means ADDITIONAL MONEY in the BANK.

  4. Jeff, this is great information and I appreciate your transparency. When I’ve interviewed real estate agents, I can sense when they haven’t done their homework or more frustrating to me, use a tone of voice that insinuates that my question is stupid or unnecessary. N. Xavier Arnold talks about the importance of practicing your craft willingly and diligently in his book The Best Real Estate Investing Method…Ever! and that includes having a good attitude. Thanks for setting a good example.

  5. Carrie J. Cruz on

    The line “You must actually know what you’re talking about” is just about it. I f you have this then you’ll never go wrong. Sometimes or most of the time bad attitude towards a costumer is a defense of not knowing.

  6. Neil — Spot on. It’s what Grandma told us, right? Say we don’t know, and admit when we’re wrong. Our authority comes from ‘genuine’ knowledge, experience, and expertise.

    Nicole — Customer service is a separate discussion, but we’re on the same page. The customer however, is sometimes wrong, often mortally so.

    Kate — I’d say most folks can sniff out a fluff answer pretty quickly. Insinuating the question is stupid is a sure fire way of letting folks know you’ve either been caught off guard, or as you suggested, didn’t do the homework. Thanks for your kind words.

    Carrie — Very wise words. A haughty attitude when asked a question is indeed sometimes a defense mechanism for, ‘I have no clue’. It’s much easier to say ‘I don’t know’.

  7. Kathryn V. Johnson on

    After reading this, I must say that giving short answers is one of the best way to answer any question. If you are certain of what you are talking about then you can explain but if not then it would also be wise to tell the truth.

    There are really times that you will encounter people who have more knowledge about the topic in hand and it would really a great shame if you find out that the person knows you don’t know anything.

  8. makanjuola ojewumi on

    Questions from prospects and actual buyers require both professional and sincere answers, mark my words professional, it matters not to look like a quack, or even be one. if don’t know the subject, the fundamental questions cant even be answered, wild guesses create confussion, the article sure says it all, thanks, good refresher course for all pros.
    cheers

  9. Sometimes the simplest of questions asked turns into asking more finite questions in order to get to the real questions answer. The lacking ingredient that I learned many years ago while participating in a Sales management course through the Dale Carnegie Institute. was; The need to have an in-depth knowledge of Human Engineering Skills. Answering a question with a question statement like; If I understand you correctly Mr. Jones, your asking me? or Just so I understand completely Mr. Jones. let me ask you a question? Ask and ye shall receive!! What you may find is an entirely different question being asked than the one you were prepared to answer on the spot.

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