Right from the start, I'm bending a rule. This column is really two parts that will seem unconnected, but if you stay with me, it will mesh nicely.

Some years ago, I sat in an educational seminar at a HARDI conference. Sitting toward the front at 2 o’clock (I was in the back) was a fellow with a southern (Texan?) accent who I noticed had some good questions. I didn’t know him, but I was impressed that he would follow up with several inquiries, asking the presenter to refine or expand on his answers. He was thorough, polite and, most importantly, he kept probing.

The next day, I’m in another seminar, and this same fellow is at it again, asking thoughtful and, yes, probing and specific questions about the material. It’s important to note that unlike a few people who seem to ask questions just to hear their own voice, this did not apply to him. I thought: Who is that guy? His interest was genuine, and I have seldom heard a better questioner in a business setting.

Regardless of the venue or the term we use for a learning experience, we attend because we want to improve some element of behavior in ourselves (and others) or a process that needs upgrading.

One of the fundamental standards that you can use to determine the value of what you’re hearing and learning is asking questions. I remember Bob Bly, one of the country’s top copywriters, saying some people would attend a seminar where he was speaking just to ask him ONE question. There is merit in this because while generalities and clichés might feel good for the moment, the test is whether it is applicable to you.

Does it work for you is the key.  Some experts are simply wrong, and you can deduce if their advice is meaningful by asking questions. Other times, what they impart won’t work in your individual circumstances, or (surprise) the philosophical and personal approach to what they are trying to share just doesn’t complement your personality and learning style.  So you quit listening. No matter how objective you might consider yourself, don’t dismiss the latter. We all know that most people will work harder for a coach they both respect and like.

The point that I’m leading to with the idea of probing questions deals with a HARDI Focus Forum I will be attending on April 12 to 14, Marketing and Sales Focus Conference in Charleston, S.C. (www.hardinet.org/marketing-sales). This conference will have nine (yes, nine) experts on sales and marketing. I love the approach, because no one person has the answer to your sales and marketing problems. You can use this opportunity to try a new approach, revise or revamp what you have been doing or, best yet, try something you never even thought about that might get you excited about the process. What is particularly appealing is that you have a lineup of experts with superb credentials. And you have them all in one place during a few days.

We know sales and marketing get described as the “lifeblood” of any business. Cliché or not, it’s true. If you have the attitude that “I’ve heard all that” or “It’s all the same,” you are wrong. First, even the best performers in any endeavor occasionally need reminders about WHY they are doing what they do. And secondly, no one is that good that you can’t improve upon what you’re doing. Not reviewing your sales approach at least annually simply marks you as a close-minded person.

True confession. I’m a lousy salesperson and I know it.  I have some ideas about why, which has me impatiently waiting to attend. I’m going to review my sales process like never before. Then I’m going to go to every session and see if it applies to me (in a general sense because I don’t compete in the HVACR market).

My vow is to walk away with at least two improvements in how I sell. They might not work, but at least I will try something new. Allow me to suggest that you do the same. None of us is so superb at what we do that moments of self-examination are unnecessary. Why not match your approach to what experts suggest to see if they have a better alternative. If you’re in the same presentation that I attend, sit next to me and we can compare notes. (I’m the bald guy with black-framed glasses who looks like an aging Gene Hackman.)

Don’t hesitate or wait to register. Just visit www.hardinet.org/marketing-sales and bring all those questions about sales and marketing that you’ve always wanted to ask.




 I discovered later that “guy” from Texas who asked all those great questions was Richard Cook, COO & president of Houston-based Johnson Supply. No surprise that he ended up becoming a HARDI president:  a true Texas gentleman. Richard, if you ever decide to give up this HVACR stuff, give me a call. I’m sure we can find room for you in the editorial ranks at our magazine.