One of the oldest and most frequently used discovery questions by contractors, remodelers, designers and other who are meeting with someone who wants improvements made to their is “What’s your time frame?” While it may sound like an effective question for us to use in determining when people are ready to get started on their project, it is a totally useless question. Keep reading.
There are much better ways to ask for the information that this question seems to request.
The concept of using such a question is sound, but the way it is asked makes it a throwaway – it tells us nothing that can be used. The answer may not even express the true situation of our customers.
Suppose we ask a person about their time frame who calls us on the phone for information about our services or how we can help them, or we have an initial meeting with them in their home – alone or with other family members present? What if their response is that their time frame is a date two three months away? Do we then know that this is when they want us to get started on their project? Not at all.
We can’t really tell exactly what did they mean in their response? Actually, there is no way to tell without asking additional questions. That’s why this is such a poor, ineffective question – a a waste of effort because additional questions are always necessary to learn the truth.
We need to learn to ask for the information we really want and not to use a question that sounds nice but tells us nothing.
To illustrate having someone respond to this time frame question with either a specific answer (today, this week, the first of the month) or a more general one (soon, in a couple of weeks, in a month or two, no particular hurry), here are some possible meanings of the response they might give – the date or general period they indicate is (1) when something that they are waiting on is supposed to happen or be concluded (receiving a check or payment, someone coming to visit, a child or parent moving in with them, or any of several other possibilities) before they can even think seriously about moving forward with talking about or even considering any possible improvements, (2) the soonest they would even want to talk with us in detail about anything that might be done, (3) when they want to begin reviewing proposals to decide on what they might want to have done, (4) when they want to have us get started on the agreed upon improvements, or (5) when they want all of the changes completed so they can be enjoying what has been done.
There’s absolutely no way to infer their intent in the response they give us, and they may not know for sure what they think we mean by even asking the questions – only giving a response that they think answers the question they believe we may have asked.
There’s no point in asking questions that we think are useful when in fact they aren’t. When we ask a question and get an answer that we aren’t sure really tells us what we want to know without asking additional questions, it is not a good question. Let’s make it easier on both ourselves and our clients.