Whether you are in a media interview, investor pitch, sales meeting or speaking in front of a crowd, you need to know how to handle questions and get your point across calmly and effectively.
But how do you get back on topic when a question leads you down a different path? Or when an interviewer has different intentions to you? One way is by using a bridging phrase – but beware not all bridging phrases promise an easy way to cross back over to your key messages.
So what is a bridging phrase?
A bridging phrase helps you transition from one topic to another seamlessly (if done correctly), making them valuable for any business owner, spokesperson, salesperson or professional to have up their sleeve to use when the moment requires.
The first part of the sentence needs to acknowledge what has been said or asked while still allowing the opportunity to change the subject or add information. The second part of the bridging phrase provides the chance to change the message while sounding as though you are about to deliver valuable information. In other words, you want a sentence that will help you bring the conversation back to what matters to your target audience. Here are some examples:
While it has been that way…
People have said that but…
Yes, I agree though would add…
I’m not sure that is the case, let me tell you why…
We/I take a different approach…
While that has been public opinion…
That reminds me of…
While we are on the subject…
I wouldn’t say that, but what I would say is…
Let me put that in context…
To put this in perspective…
That is a common misconception…
What is more concerning is…
What I believe is…
It has been my experience that…
I have found that…
What many people don’t know is…
What you may not be aware of is…
What people need to know is…
What our customers have found…
What this new research suggests…
The heart of the matter is…
While it sounds simple, mastering the art of bridging can take a lot of practice. As you converse today, look at how you naturally change the subject. Chances are you may say one of the following:
“Keep in mind that…”
Granted not all will be appropriate in a professional setting but it is essential to be in touch with your authentic voice. When you are, you can start experimenting with bridging phrases that sound like your natural voice or at least feel more natural to you.
Beware of bridging to avoid questions
If you want an example of someone using bridging phrases to avoid a line of questioning, listen to a journalist interviewing a politician. You will no doubt hear a few of their favourite bridging phrases like:
“What the most important point/issue here is…”
“What we need to remember is…”
“What we need to consider is…”
“Before I answer that I need to explain…”
When someone uses a bridging phrase to avoid a topic, it usually comes with no (or minimal) acknowledgement of the question asked. It is also undeniable that they are trying to spin things in a different direction – and generally for self-serving purposes not for the value of the target audience. While this approach can help to get some points across there is a high chance the journalist or interviewer will hit the issue harder in the next question they ask.
While your customers may not press you like a journalist if you bridge to avoid their questions you can lose trust and credibility in their eyes.
Try reframing the question
If you come across loaded questions or more confronting objections try reframing the question in your mind to still acknowledge and answer it, but give an answer that is more aligned with your messaging and interests.
For example, if a customer was to question “How can you justify the price of your product when [your competitor] only charges $X?” You could reframe the question to “What value can you provide that is over and above what [your competitor] offers?” You will still answer their question but from a more powerful and positive position.
The bottom line is you need to be prepared
To be able to bridge topics effectively you need to be prepared. Know what you want to get across, plan for questions and objections, have some bridging phrases ready and practice reframing questions and answering them from a more positive perspective.
The way to succeed in business is to be constantly in touch with your market. The moment you lose touch with them or start making business more about you than your customers is the time you risk becoming irrelevant.
While business can get busy, and email can seem like a quicker option, nothing beats picking up the phone and engaging in conversation. Don’t think you have the time? Here are five reasons you should be making the time to call your customers regularly.
1. Uncover needs and trends
Businesses and people change over time. What they once valued or needed may no longer be valued or needed. The only way to prevent yourself from losing customers to competitors or becoming irrelevant in your industry is to be in contact with your customers and find out what is happening in their lives and businesses.
The more you genuinely care and want to help, the more they will open up to you about their struggles, worries, frustrations and challenges. This gives you valuable insight into the minds and needs of your customers and helps you find or create the right solution for them. It can also help you identify trends, and market opportunities as similar struggles and needs appear through your discussions.
2. Upsell products and services
As you uncover needs you will also uncover opportunities to upsell (increase the amount they spend), cross-sell (get them buying more) and resell (keep them coming back).
A customer won’t always think of you as their needs change and may not even be aware of the other products and services you provide. Talking to them over the phone gives you the opportunity to educate them on all of the different solutions you can provide.
3. Gain testimonials and case studies
Another key benefit of staying in touch with your customers is that you get to know the results they are achieving with your products and services. Customer testimonials and case studies are incredibly valuable in your sales process because they prove how you can help. This proof reduces the risk felt by potential customers and gives you powerful marketing messages to use.
As you are talking to your customers, casually ask them how your product or service has helped them. More often than not your customers will be flattered you value their opinion and be happy to give you a testimonial.
4. Identify improvements
Some business owners fear their customers’ feedback, so much so that it prevents them from following up after purchases. But the feedback your customers share with you, whether it is positive or negative, is the key to building a better business.
Your customers, who have experienced your products and services firsthand, will provide priceless insight into the quality, affordability, customer service and benefits you offer compared to what else is available in your industry. And if you choose to listen, help you create greater products and services that are more competitive and relevant to your market.
5. Build relationships
Never underestimate the power of a trusting business relationship. You have already invested time, money and energy into getting your customers; why not do everything in your power to keep them as well?
People want to be valued for who they are and not just how much they spend with you. A quick phone call to see how they are going is a great way to build a relationship with your customers and inspire loyalty and trust.
These days so many businesses have an agenda when they contact their customers. However, you leave an indelible mark when you call just to see how they are going.
When it comes to crafting winning marketing messages you can often find inspiration in the most unexpected places.
To help you strike marketing gold, here are four places to start looking to uncover marketing messages and product or service developments.
Frequently asked questions give you an insight into what is important to your customers, the potential limitations of your products and services, the features or elements customers don’t understand and what may be missing from your marketing messages.
If you keep getting the same question numerous times and there is a positive answer, try to identify if there is a key selling point you can draw out of it. If not is there an innovation you could make that will fill the need and give you a competitive edge?
Nothing causes us to stand up and listen like a “no”. Though in order to learn from each “no” the important question to ask is “why?”
Was it because they couldn’t see the value? Was it the price? Did it lack a key benefit, feature or inclusion? Was it the sales message or process? Was it just this particular customer (one “no”) or are changes needed to suit the needs of your larger customer base (more than one “no”)?
Examine the scenario yourself and solicit feedback, it could be as simple as needing to change your message to demonstrate your value from a customer’s perspective.
Objections are often seen as the first step towards rejection but it’s not the case. A customer who is objecting is still engaged. They are still interacting, listening and evaluating. Objections aren’t a “no” they’re a “not yet” or “I need more information”.
Just like frequently asked questions, objections uncover the priorities of your target market and, when you listen closely, can give you the information you need to customise your sales pitch so they see the value for them personally.
They can also show you what case studies and testimonials you need and what information you should include in your marketing material and sales process to overcome objections before they’re even verbalised. By doing so you’ll show your customers you ‘get’ them.
While this is a more obvious place to find marketing gold, if you’re like most businesses it’s unlikely you are using them to your full advantage.
While they can help you ‘prove’ your value through your marketing material and overcome common objections of customers (provided you get the right testimonials), they can also tell you what to prioritise in your marketing message.
Your customers may love a particular product, service, feature or result more than those you are currently pushing and chances are what your future customers love about you, will be the same thing your future customers will want from you.
You can also uncover the true frustrations of your customers through your testimonials. Often you will solve a problem your customer didn’t know they had. Testimonials are a great way to capture the relief and give you the gift of hindsight for your next customers.
Have you found marketing gold in any unusual places?