To Summarize ...
Building a relationship is great, but delivering the results is what builds trust. The biggest problem with never getting a direct answer is that it gets in the way of the real progress. It's pointless. It wastes time and effort. It allows for procrastination. It enables people to avoid rejection. After all, if you are busy probing the needs of the prospect you don't have to risk actually doing the work, or of losing it. Even though you are setting up the environment to do just that!
Can you really imagine a hot dog vendor at a ballpark selling his wares with consultative questions like: "On a 1 - 10 scale, rate your level of discomfort with your hunger?" "Tell me your main objective with the hot dog?" "When you had a hot dog before, how satisfied were you with the mustard and ketchup ratio?" To which, if you are really hungry, you respond: "Cut the crap and just give me the damn wiener!"
So, isn't he much more effective when he just yells: "Hot dogs, hot dogs, come and get your hot dogs!"
We think it is reasonable to ask: "Why should project managers be reluctant to ask the direct question: "Do we now move forward under contract?"
We believe that the answer is really quite simple. It is not about trepidation, vulnerability or honesty, but about fear of rejection. A clear "no" means a dead project and having to start all over. But even the client may not be clear in their minds, or may not have the final decision authority, and is equally reluctant to seek "higher authority" and finalize the exchange.
As the old saying goes: "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
Editor's supplementary note
As guest authors of published papers on this web site know, we always submit our edited drafts back to the author for final approval before uploading. In this case we received the following response from author John Baker:
"Max, I'm delighted you found The Asking Formula to be of interest and thank you for introducing my methodology to your PM practitioner audience. The article looks fine to me and I approve its content.
During my 25+ years as a senior executive in Corporate America I worked with dozens if not hundreds of Project Management professionals. Some were completely incompetent, most of them were quite talented, but what separated the good from the great was the skill of clear, direct and action-oriented communications. The ability to influence across an organization, motivate a large diverse project team, and gain buy-in from all levels within a company was a hallmark of the best-of-the-best.
That's why I'm especially pleased that you found my content of interest. Frankly, having sat through far too many dysfunctional project team meetings during my tenure at American Express and Ameriprise Financial, I am convinced that the skill of asking is essential to PM development. Months of hard work can be undone by a PM's unwillingness or inability to ask confidently and persuasively for what they want. My methodology solves for this and I truly believe it should be part of every PM's toolkit.
In closing, let me thank you again.
John M Baker"
To which we heartily agree.