When I started my career at IBM, I had the opportunity to meet with the founder of a small transportation company during one of my early customer meetings. Looking back, I approached this meeting the wrong way but it led to learning the 4 lessons below. These lessons all have one thing in common: questions.
Prepare Properly in Advance
I prepared for the first meeting with the founder of this transportation company the only way I knew how. I learned everything I needed to know about the technology I wanted to share with him regarding the project. Within about five minutes of our meeting, this kind gentleman asked me what I knew about his company. I knew it was a transportation company but not much else. If I had been more focused on his business rather than my own technology offerings, I would have been able to prepare in advance with some questions about his company. There are many different ways to research companies or industries or individuals. I could have learned more about the different kinds of trucks and which ones his company typically required. Fortunately, the founder took me under his wing and shared information that I should have researched before our meeting. The research I should’ve done, but didn’t do would have allowed more time for forward-looking questions.
Find who can give you answers
I was fortunate that the founder I met with was willing to give a curious kid a lot more of his time than he probably should have. I frequently think of this experience as I prepare for meetings today. I not only properly prepare through research to answer questions about the company in advance but I also consider with whom I’m meeting with whether that be a CIO, CMO or CFO and what questions are best suited for them.
Be truly curious
Not only was the founder of the company willing to give me more time to ask questions about his business, but he also took the time to give me a tour of the whole facility. We walked around the transportation yard and he showed me the different kinds of trucks his company used. Asking even more questions quickly became infectious and, to my surprise, really opened up the founder to share even more information with me as we walked through the truck yard.
There is no such thing as a dumb question
Back then, I was naïve enough to ask the founder of a transportation company, someone who has been in the industry for 25+ years, questions like “How many different types of trucks are there?” My sense is that many people today shy away from asking questions of people because they are afraid it might seem like a dumb inquiry. I think you should be bold because you never know what you could learn or where it could take you – Like in my case, on a tour of the facility.
I’ve learned that when you spend the time to prepare properly in advance, figure out who you want to ask questions and show that you are truly curious, you’ll find the answers you are looking for and definitely some experience along the way.
This lesson of asking questions is one of many stories that I love sharing about my career. Stay tuned to hear more and I’d love to hear some of your thoughts about asking questions. I look forward to hearing your responses.