Why Good Questions Always Trump Even Your Best Answers

In almost every marketing and sales situation you often need to pose question after question to get at what the problem might actually be. Or often, a good line of hard questions can help eliminate a problem a client thinks they are trying to solve and get them to see the right direction to move.

better questions

photo credit: Oberazzi via photopin cc

The right questions get you and the client to the right place together. There’s nothing less fruitful than spending thirty minutes answering the wrong question.

Questions create clarity and get your prospects to open up in ways that reveal how you can add value.

Great consultants ask great questions instead of trying to provide great answers. It’s actually a valuable service in and of itself and demonstrates that you there to guide your client towards their objectives rather than close a sale.

Peter Drucker, perhaps the most well-known and read consultants of all time, would refer to himself not as a Consultant, but as an Insultant, he so valued asking tough questions.

Sometimes asking tough questions can take some nerve, but if you’re in front of the right kind of prospect, they will respect you for caring enough and you’ll get to where you are going faster – even if that’s on down the road.

As you get better at using questions you’ll actually become a better listener and you’ll help your clients articulate their needs in ways that your competitors are not.

You need to have some form of the follow question starters at the ready in every situation. Feel free to paste this list somewhere you can return to as you prepare your next sales call.

Your question workbench

Can we get specific? – One of the most important things you can do in the realm of questions is to figure out what a client really wants to know when they ask you a question. Many times they don’t know how to be specific so they might say, “Tell me about your products” when they really want to know if you test your products against a specific defect that they discovered in their current supplier’s product.

You must be ready in any broad line of questioning to redirect to something like, “Is there something specific you would like to know about our products.” You can always move off of this stance, but more times than not they will answer in a way that helps you understand what’s going on in their worldview.

Is that a question? – Have you ever had a prospect ramble on about what’s going wrong with everything in their company and perhaps the world as a whole only to stop and ask you to solve it? The problem with trying to sell into this situation is that it’s a lot like trying to wade through a pond without any idea how deep the water is. You must be prepared to ask them to actually pose a question.

Why is that a problem? Again, many times people will tell you all about what they perceive as problems without shedding any light on what it’s costing them or why they want to solve it. You’ve got to drag that out and see if they can articulate that for you. If they aren’t motivated by this question, they won’t be motivated enough to solve it either.

How do you measure success? – So often a salesperson is out there selling a product or solution, knowing that it’s good for the prospect, without know how the prospect is measuring what’s good for them. When you understand what a buyer’s objectives are and how they are measured you can frame your value in those terms. Many times a buyer is mostly concerned with the things that show up on their annual review and you’ll benefit from understanding that.

What would you do if this were solved? – Problems and challenges take people away from the things they are much more excited about. Figuring out what a potential buyer would rather do gives you some insight into what’s important to them.

What do you enjoy most about your business? – I find that many business owners and even corporate managers started out doing what they love and oftentimes lose sight of it allow the way. Helping them remember and perhaps set a course back to it can be a great service and it’s also a great way to make a connection. No one is asking them this anymore.

How would you spend your time if . . .? This is the kind of question that would come later in a selling or service situation, but I think it can be a great thing to find out and engage in what someone would do if they were not doing what they are doing now. Again, sometimes people just really appreciate someone genuinely inquiring about the things they’ve even stopped asking themselves. At the very least it will make you a much more interesting person to have around.

What would 10 times look like? Many times our customers don’t think as big as they should about something. Get good at helping them look at problems in much different ways by suggesting they think bigger about them.

What does that mean? – The moment your prospect starts throwing around clichés and industry jargon call them out. I don’t mean in a bad way, but asking, “what would synergy look like in this case” is a really great way to connect. Plus, if you truly don’t understand something a prospect is explaining ask them to go deeper, most people actually love to explain what they do to others.

Why is now the right time? – There are many great reasons to figure out why someone is inquiring about what you have to offer right now. You may uncover some hidden pain or simply unmask their real cycle.

And don’t be afraid to borrow a page from Peter Drucker who would ask variations of the same five questions repeatedly of clients new and old.

  1. What is your mission?
  2. Who is your customer?
  3. What does the customer value?
  4. What are your results?
  5. What is your plan?

Start with one or two questions that help you get started in almost every situation. Play with them, get comfortable with them and then add some more.

I think it warrants repeating – good questions always trump good answers.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • waiwa

    Thanks for your sharing, a good question sometimes can force someone think deeply, and find the answer by himself.

  • http://www.microsourcing.com/ MicroSourcing

    These are great guide questions for arriving at an effective business solution. The good thing about asking specific questions is that it helps people examine their assumptions.

  • Ted Obermayer

    Good questions we should always have in mind. Thanks for sharing.

  • OBVAVirtualAssistant

    I always had this saying from Chanakya in mind “Before you start some work, always ask yourself three questions – Why am I doing it, What the results might be and Will I be successful. Only when you think deeply and find satisfactory answers to these questions, go ahead.” So you really need to have your questions ready to have a successful business. Thansk for the share.

  • http://gowinphotography.com Michael Gowin

    Thanks for this, John–right in line with Dan Pink’s new book, “To Sell Is Human.” I dropped a link to your post on my site today.


  • Vik Chaudhary

    Really excellent article. I posted this on my website Beta Program, which is read by people who run businesses, divisions, or manage products, and want to become more effective. I have used some of these questions in the Silicon Valley tech world, and I learnt a few new ones! See my summary at http://betaprogram.com/2013/03/12/question-everything/

  • http://www.BeVisibleAssociates.com Betsy Kent – BeVisible

    Thanks John. My style is very similar, but you gave me some new ideas. Off to two new client meetings today…gonna bring this as a cheat sheet!

  • ellennaylor

    Your tips also apply to those of us who do research for a living since clients know they need help, but aren’t good at articulating it.

  • Herb Jones

    great post John! I learned how to sell “well” via David Sandler…that’s when I learned how to ask questions effectively. I LOVE the Drucker “insultant” reference….fabulous
    and this, might be the most powerful question of all:
    “What do you enjoy most about your business?”

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      Thanks Herb and it’s true get a business owner talking about what they love and you’ll uncover the keys to the relationship.

  • http://twitter.com/fasonepartners Fasone & Partners

    Thanks for the post John. Great read and even better questions.