Using “What If” Questions
Editor’s Note: In August, Ira kicked off his series of educational columns. This month, he reviews the advantages of asking “What If” questions. He emphasizes their ability to engage your client, create enthusiasm and ensure a fantastic end-result, no matter the size of the project.
When Chantel meets her prospective client, she asks a lot of “What If” questions.
“I know you want this room to be brighter and sunnier than it is now. What if we knocked through this wall and added a window right here? That would look great!”
Or, “What if we added extra lighting fixtures to bathe the room in light. I know a great lighting designer who can make this room absolutely shine.”
“What If” questions get the prospect involved with the design process. They elicit a response—and begin to focus the client on a narrower set of options. “What If” questions, far from being weak, strengthen the bond between Chantel and her client. She has to ask creative, fun, intelligent “What If” questions, of course, but forcing the client to think beyond their limited view opens the design up to wonderful possibilities.
What are your “What If” questions?
When you meet a prospect, do you say: “I know you want to watch TV without a glare on the set during the day. What if we had shade control in this room, so when the TV is on, the shades partially close. There’ll be plenty of light, but we can remove the glare.”
“What If” questions are thought-provoking. They focus your prospect’s attention on possibilities and away from budget. And they can be used at any time during the course of the project—even as you are coming to completion.
“Now that we’ve mounted the plasma, what if we changed the bezel to match the lighting fixtures? That could look really good.”
“What If” questions establish a strong relationship with your prospect. Use them generously.
Now here’s the kicker
Chantel is the most enthusiastic subcontractor working with the client. The architect isn’t. The builder certainly isn’t. And the plumber, electrician and flooring guys? They’re just doing their job.
But the designer is all bubbles and fun and energy. The designer trades in “what’s possible,” whereas everyone else is selling “what’s practical.”
There are no rules in the design world. There is no “not-to-exceed” budget. The scope of the design is only limited by imagination and cash flow. Only the client knows how much cash flow there is. The designer is blind to that reality. She just wants to create exquisite art with the client.
Everything is exciting in the world of design. Small projects with tiny budgets are exciting because they present an artistic challenge. Large projects are exciting because they’re comprehensive. Even the most distinguished and internationally recognized designers will accept smallish projects, because they make money selling their time, not the couch.
AV Dealers, on the other hand, get really excited about large projects because they see the dollar signs associated with big-ticket parts. Fair enough. But the prospective client senses that—and is completely turned off by the ho-hum attitude their AV sales guys possesses when faced with a smallish budget.
Your job is to be enthusiastic with your prospect regardless of the budget they initially offer. You should be enthusiastic about theaters, automation systems, lighting control and outdoor music systems. The enthusiasm is contagious. You can deal with budget constraints and issues later, as we’ll see in Part VII: Honoring the Budget. CR
Using Inclusive Language