Whenever I see my dad, the conversation invariably turns to the internet and social media.

For me, it’s a passion and a profession and I love to talk about it with anyone that will listen.

For him, it’s a way of staying in touch with current technologies and trends after a career in business computing that included stints at IBM, Amdahl and a variety of other business systems providers.

Curation as a learning moment

Our conversation started with a story about an article that he discovered on the amazing curation site Brainpickings.org and then shared with a friend on the topic of creativity. What was remarkable about this experience was how thrilled his friend was to receive the article. It was exactly what his friend was interested in and looking for.

My eyes lit up. Here was a real life learning moment – an opportunity to talk about the power of curation and how sharing great content was like giving a gift to the person looking for that piece of information.

“But I knew what my friend was looking for, so when I came across it I could share with him,” my dad reasoned. “Don’t you have to know what specific information each person wants in order to curate effectively?”

“When you curate a stream of consistently high-quality, targeted content,” I said, “you will attract people looking for that content. They will find your clear signal amid the noisy and cluttered information landscape.”

This led us to a discussion of the sales funnel and how social media in general, and content marketing and curation specifically, were playing an increasingly important role in filling the top of the funnel.

“Prospects are appearing in the sales funnel with so much more information than ever before,” I said. “They’re doing their own online research on you and your competitors, seeking out the perspectives of third-party subject matter experts and probably asking their peers and colleagues for their opinions – all before they reach out to the sales person.”

It’s not like the old days when the seller found the prospect and then drove the selling process. Ever so subtlely (or not), I was suggesting that the contemporary world of business and sales had changed and was much different than the old-fashioned business world of the late 20th century during which my dad made a career selling.

The most important question

“What’s the most important question you can ask a prospect when they reach out to you in the scenario you just described,” asked my dad. He was testing me. I hate tests.

“Tell me, what is it?”

“A consultative seller will always ask a prospect: what is the background that has led you to this conversation/meeting,” he offered. “Then, you just shut up and listen.”

The takeaway

Smart sellers are consultative sellers and nothing about the social era and it’s revolutionary networking technology changes that.

If we ask open questions and then listen to what our prospects tell us – we will learn all about their objectives, the context in which they are seeking a solution, and what research they have done already. If we are really skilled at asking and listening, we may even discover critical qualifying information about a prospect’s timelines, budgets, decision-making process and more – data that helps us position our product/service most effectively for the opportunity.

Social networks create an abundance of opportunities to use great information to attract interest, drive engagement and to build influence and trust before many of our prospects are even identified as such.

Don’t assume that just because someone lands on your doorstep asking intelligent questions about your product or service that you know what’s motivating that prospect.

Make sure to ask the most important question you can ever ask a prospect.