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How often do you catch yourself asking a stupid question? If you’re honest, it’s probably more frequently than you would like.

Last week I couldn’t believe what I asked a bank CEO. Jim (not his real name) is somebody I’ve known for over 10 years. The last time we had talked was at a bank sales summit about 6 months ago. I had asked then whether there was anything that was possibly concerning him about his bank’s recent performance. His bank was doing quite well. They had just announced a major acquisition, their stock price had jumped significantly, and he was very pleased with the way his senior team was working together. Jim’s response at that point was not surprising: “No,” he said,
“things are going great.”

Fast forward to last week. I called him about a matter involving one of his direct reports and after discussing that briefly I thought about our last conversation.  What came out of my mouth then was horrible: “Jim, is there anything keeping you awake at night?”

Ugh! I couldn’t believe how stupid that sounded. Maybe I was just channeling the role-plays that I have observed over the last two decades. (I doubt that sales trainers are still encouraging bankers to ask that question. The amazing thing is that lots of bankers keep asking it, in role plays anyway.)

Sounding just like somebody who has just been through sales training is not the impression I was trying to create with Jim or any bank CEO. Jim didn’t seem to be too flustered by my clumsy question. He answered it thoughtfully and we ended the conversation amicably.

But in thinking about what I could’ve done to make the conversation with Jim more effective led to one conclusion:  I need to draft in advance of every call several specific questions to ask. Simple. Easy. Common sense. The kind of stuff I tell bankers to do.

But a lot of times in our haste to get things done we just wing it. Here’s my takeaway: Don’t!

For more tips on business development, check out the following:
Are You Making Enough Sales Calls?
A Cautionary Tale: CEOs Want Substance Not Sports Talk
How to Make More Calls: Try 2 Before 10
7 Ways to Build Your Business Acumen

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