Great Question! First, Get Rid of Your Toxic Assumptions


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"If you want to learn something, ask questions."

Mrs. Washington, my kindergarten teacher, probably instilled this straightforward, sensible idea. Throughout elementary school and beyond, we learned to separate questions into simple, useful categories—smart and dumb, for example. From there, things got complicated very quickly. Today, if you want to experience how people can scrutinize the living daylights out of questions, participate in a sales training session. It’s awesome!

In the name of sales efficiency, experts assemble lists of their favorite questions, adorning them with pungent adjectives like challenging, engaging, tough, hard-hitting, provocative, and even killer. What started in school as a benign method for learning has mutated into barely-concealed aggression. When we create blunt-force questions and lethal questions, someone, please, pull the plug on this insanity! I guess this was inevitable. The same thing happened to Cheerios. Once a perfectly fine singleton product, Cheerios now markets 14 varieties, including Multi-grain Dark Chocolate Crunch. Along the way, a nutritious breakfast became candy.

You can buy hundreds of books about sales questions. Leading with Questions, Questions That Sell, Secrets of Question Based Selling, and 250 Sales Questions to Close the Deal are here on my shelf, each written by a different author. If I ever struggle for the perfect question, I can grab any of these titles, and chances are I’ll find something useful on page 56.

What’s odd is that hyper-attentiveness about The Right Questions doesn’t address the biggest problems for discovery. First, salespeople often don’t know what they must learn to begin with—which is why finding good questions has emerged as such a huge (and for some, lucrative) challenge. Second, assumptions around asking questions cause incalculable woe. Four are particularly toxic:

1. Assuming prospective customers are even open-minded to answering questions. “Could you share with me your top three strategic challenges?” It doesn’t make a difference how good the questions are if the right interpersonal chemistry doesn’t exist. Without rapport and trust, don’t expect prospects to open up. As Jim Collins wrote in his book, Good to Great, “create an environment where the truth is heard.”

2. Assuming that prospects can reflect on their inner state. Salespeople often assume that prospects know why they do what they do, and can articulate an explanation. But in a recent TedX Talk, Christian Madsbjerg of ReD Associates describes that this is a common fallacy, particularly in consumer research.

3. Assuming prospects answer questions with honesty and precision. While it’s uncommon for prospects to be purposely deceptive, salespeople should recognize that answers are sometimes loaded with gobs of misinformation and other inaccuracies. When certain information is crucial for making recommendations or proposing solutions, it’s vital for salespeople to collect corroborating or validating information.

4. Assuming people will behave in the future the way that they report. Salespeople often think that prospects can accurately predict their own behavior. But prospects don't always follow through by acting as they said they would.

Asking good questions doesn’t guarantee getting the right answers. After all, uncovering the truth has never been easy or formulaic. Great questions are but one vehicle for effective discovery. First, know what to learn, and let go of toxic assumptions about questions.

Republished with author's permission from original post.