If you want to grow your business, nothing is more essential than a big dose of curiosity.
Recently, I spoke to some high school students and one asked me: "If you had to give us an example of one thing that makes your business keep growing, what would it be?"
It took me only a fraction of a second to answer: "Curiosity," I said.
The students looked almost as surprised as I must when I encounter people in business who seem to lack this essential ingredient. More than any other skill, talent, or type of training, I'm convinced curiosity is what creates growth.
Curious? Read on.
Curiosity uncovers opportunity.
Not long after I started my company, Metal Mafia, I hired a salesperson who was making plenty of sales calls, but not making a lot of sales. As I listened to her calls to help pinpoint why she was not doing well, I heard her speak to a customer who told her he had just come back to the shop after undergoing two of three surgeries for which he was scheduled. Because of the surgeries, he had not been able to order for a while. Rather than delve further into his situation, the salesperson just plowed ahead with, "Well, when you get back to the shop definitively, maybe you can have a look at our catalogue. I will send one out today," and awkwardly ended the call.
This was all I needed to hear to know exactly why she was not sealing deals. She had no interest in the people she was talking to. Had she truly cared about the man with the health problems, she would have asked how the business was doing in his absence, and found out what I did later: the shop was struggling; the owner was unable to order on a regular basis because of his frequent hospitalizations. Through my curiosity, I was able to identify an opportunity. I set up a recurring order for this owner so that the shop received the products it needed each month without the owner having to worry about it--helping him to safeguard his business while he took care of his health.
Curiosity drives sales.
In the early stages of Metal Mafia, an industry-only magazine I advertised in mistakenly published my company's phone number on the ad of another company. The other company sold foot pedals to turn on and off sink faucets, allowing tattoo artists to use their sinks hands-free. As a supplier of piercing jewelry, our product is very different. When one of our sales reps answered the phone and the caller asked if we carried the sink pedals, the rep started to tell the caller he had the wrong number, but instead asked what company he was looking for.
When he found out the caller was seeking the company in the ad, he realized the caller was from a tattoo shop, and instead of ending the call, astutely asked if the shop also carried body jewelry. The caller confirmed it did, and we sent catalogs out right away. For the next few weeks, we were inundated by callers trying to reach the other company, and whenever possible, we converted the caller into a customer by being curious enough to ask about his shop and follow up with catalogs. This instant of curiosity turned out to help us build our client base fast and efficiently at a time when we really needed it.
Curiosity limits wasted resources.
For the first time ever, I recently decided to try a headhunter to help find additional account executives for my growing sales team. The headhunter seemed like a bright guy; after I gave him a basic idea of the criteria I was looking for in a prospect, he began to send me resumes of worthy candidates. After each phone interview I did with a candidate, I sent the recruiter an email to let him know who I was interested in meeting with. Since this was the first time we worked together, I wanted to test his skills and commitment to finding the right people for my business. When the candidate did not pass the phone interview, I simply wrote him, "Not the right fit." After each email, the recruiter responded, and thanked me for letting him know.
Yet, not once was he curious enough to ask why the rejected candidates were not right for me. Had he done so, he would have been able to do a more thorough screening job, and waste less of his time (and mine) sending over the wrong people. Ultimately, if he had inquired for more explanation, he also would have impressed me by having a much higher success rate with the candidates he proposed to me--and would have gained more business from me in the future.
Most growth in business comes from helping your customers grow their businesses. The only way to effectively do that is to constantly be curious. Never be afraid to ask why. Get nosy. Pry a little. And win big.
Vanessa Merit Nornberg: In 2004, Vanessa opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009. @vanessanornberg