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I’ve done several posts on strategic mentors who’ve fundamentally shaped my thinking and approach. In an early one, I mentioned multiple posts could be filled with lessons learned from Bill McDonald when I worked for him at Kansas City Infobank. The next few days will feature several great lessons I’m sure you’ll benefit from as much as I have.

Get on the Phone and Ask Your Question

Bill had an amazing ability to phone total strangers, chat with them, and prompt them to share incredible information through asking questions. Listening to these calls made a strong impression on me about the value of directly asking great questions of knowledgeable people. I’ve never matched Bill’s skills, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the gift he has for conversation and questioning.

Today, however, since it’s so easy to email someone a question – type a few lines, hit send, and wait for a reply – fewer people seem to phone directly when they need information or something resolved.

But just because you sent an email doesn’t mean you really asked a question. That implies the recipient actually read the question, and is in a position to adequately respond without ongoing dialogue.

Despite the apparent ease of email, it’s often a much better alternative to pick up the phone and call. If you can talk live, you’ll at least know they received the question, find out if your question prompts questions for them, clarify any confusion, and engage in a dialogue that could provide a much richer understanding.

So put down the Blackberry or push away from the keyboard and call with your question! Mike Brown


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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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3 Responses to “Lessons from Kansas City Infobank – Get on the Phone”

  1. @AbhinavatST says:

    The online invoicing business (Simplifythis.com) for which I work has a one-month trial period for it customers, but unless the customer comes to us with a question or comment, we have no way of knowing what they think of our product, and no way to increase our customers' conversion rate at the end of their trials.

    I'm designing a simple e-survey to send out during the third week but since our customers are entrepreneurs and smbiz owners, a good, old-fashioned phone call would probably work better.

    It's quicker and likely has a much higher response rate – it's tougher to not answer when your "survey" is actually a conversation. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Mike Brown says:

    It's interesting how each of us brings our current situation to a post. When I wrote this, I was thinking about people who dump questions in emails, and then start long, reply all email chains trying to get questions answered.

    Both you and one other reader who emailed (ironically) both put it in the context of research questions. That's why I love diversity of thought!

    If you have the time to call people and talk with them, you'll definitely get a better sense of understanding their needs. Just remember that it may not be quantitative, and probably won't be unbiased (since you're doing the calling), but it will do more to build ties to your customers. Thanks for commenting! Mike

  3. @AbhinavatST says:

    Definitely. In my company's case, this tactic also works well for trying to expand our customer base.

    In fact, I just went from thinking about sending a mass e-mail to a huge list of potential customers, to calling up a concentrated list of strategically appropriate potential clients…and the second option made a lot more sense.