Asking the $100 question

April 12, 2010

Recently a well dressed guy in his fifties knocked on my front door to say he was a real estate agent selling my neighbour’s house. He explained he had come as a courtesy to advise of the open house times and the increased traffic created by prospective buyers. I was pleased he had done so – I like courtesies. So at that point, I had a communicative, pro-active, courteous real estate agent. We chatted briefly about pricing in the area – he was informative and helpful – joked easily. So at that point I had a communicative, pro active, courteous, informative and friendly real estate agent.

When the conversation moved rapidly to my own house and the agent asked me “Are you thinking of selling?” it was pretty clear to me that the who conversation was merely a warm up for this question. It would be eccentric for me to suggest that he didn’t have the need or right to ask this question. He had both. I’m simply saying that at this moment all the value he’d built for me vanished and was replaced with a very blunt proposition. He then offered his business card – immediately becoming just another real estate agent.

Moral of the story? Well, I guess the moral is that if your dealings with an audience of any size is simply a preamble to a sale you have a good chance of appearing or becoming inauthentic. Getting too quickly to a $100 question – a selling type question – can be a barrier to allowing an audience to ask it for you.

In the online space, I’ve noticed that the prevailing if unspoken wisdom suggests of authors should build an audience with friendly interactions with “ordinary folk” simply to sell them their books. I’d recommend thinking very carefully about this before following suit. What could happen if you never asked the $100 question?

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