Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.
—Tony Robbins, author, professional speaker.
As an entrepreneur, your success depends greatly on your ability to ask the right questions. However, few people understand the enormous value of mastering this art. I would argue that several entrepreneurs—business professionals, too—have no idea that the quality of the questions they ask determines their fate.
Why is mastering the art of asking good questions not a high priority on the list of skills to acquire for entrepreneurs? Perhaps we assume that all questions are created equal, and that’s simply not true. Depending on the situation, there are good questions and bad questions. Being able to determine the difference gives you a competitive advantage in business. Let’s examine exactly what good and bad questions are.
In general, a bad question is one that doesn’t encourage a substantive answer. For example, if you have just received an order from a new customer, “Shall I send you an invoice?” is a poor question. This question can be answered quite easily without any detailed information that could help you speed up the entire payment process, not to mention that the answer is quite obvious. The prospect may simply answer, “Yes.” Of course, you could follow up with another question—“How long will it take for payment?”—but you now sound a bit imposing and impatient. A good question in this situation would be, “What are the steps you have to go through to issue payment?” This question invokes a much more thorough answer without an imposing follow-up question. Perhaps the client reveals in the answer that one of the steps is issuing a check from a third party, which takes at least a week. Knowing this, you can now offer suggestions to expedite the payment process, such as encouraging the client to pay with a credit card because you offer a 5 percent discount.
Asking the right questions after an objection is perhaps the most important time when this skill comes in handy. Customers rarely share the true reasons behind their hesitations, and the right questions can reveal those reasons. For instance, to overcome an objection about price, try asking, “What kind of return on investment are you expecting?” After cleverly exposing the truth through good questions, you can directly address objections, improving your chances of winning over an individual. Likewise, addressing objections in this way helps entrepreneurs with vetting or refining a start-up idea.
A common impediment that customers have is high cost. In several negotiations, customers have complained that my price is too high. After asking them, for example, to describe their budgetary process, I might learn that cost is often not the issue. Frequently, customers overspend their budgets for a given time period, in which case you could invoice them during two separate periods or suggest that they share the costs with another department with available funds. You can receive the full value for your product or service if you know the right questions to ask. A bad question or simply not asking any question after an objection could cost you that million-dollar deal.
Avoid closed-ended questions, which can be answered with a simple yes or no. In general, open-ended questions are much better than simple yes-or-no questions. For instance, instead of asking a potential customer if she is satisfied with a competitor’s product or service, ask specifically what she likes and dislikes about it. This information is highly valuable and helps you position your company to win her business.
In his book Questions That Sell, author Paul Cherry writes, “Research has shown that during typical business interactions customers reveal only 20 percent of what is on their minds. . . . It is your responsibility to get to the other 80 percent.” The best entrepreneurs get to this other 80 percent by asking the right questions and turning the answers into an irresistible business solution. As you continue to improve your skills, whether in selling or product development, focus on mastering the art of asking great questions to take your business to the next level. There’s no question (pun intended) that you’ll see an improvement immediately.