A Humorous Take on the

World of Sales and Management

Google spends 3/10 of a cent to provide answers to each online search, but they earn about 26 cents for each question posed  (the money coming from advertisers).

Why are questions worth so much more than answers?  Read on...

Mike S.
"The Question is the Answer"

Someone asks "does this make me look fat?"  Is there any answer on earth that is at the same time truthful, sincere, and welcome?  Of course not.  There is no good answer because the question itself is a hand grenade.  Unfortunately, most questions we ask in sales and business fall into the same category,

A previous blog post covered Stupid Sales Questions, such
"We run our company on questions, not answers"
as "Can you tell me about your business?" and "Do you have any projects I can bid on?"  Let's face it, most sales and business questions are equally lazy and stupid.  
What is a Great Question?

Kevin Kelly, futurist and founder of "Wired" magazine states that a great question:
  •  Cannot be answered immediately
  •  Challenges existing answers
  •  Is a probe, a what-if scenario
  •  Seeds innovation in science, technology & business
Albert Einstein famously posed "thought experiments",  such as "what would happen if I chased a beam of light?". He posed provocative questions that challenged conventional wisdom and led to breakthrough ideas. That's what we need to do in business.

BBQs - Big Beautiful Questions

Identifying brilliant, insightful, and provocative questions  will lead you down a time-consuming rabbit hole of baffling diversity and distraction. I recommend it to everyone.  A great start is the work of "Question-ologist"  Warren Berger,
who has written an entire series of books on insightful questions.  

Here are some examples of wrong questions, and how you can sharpen them up.

For Business & Sales:

Wrong Question:  "How do I find new customers?"
Right Question:  "How will customers find me?"
Why:  Over 70% of customers do research online before engaging a potential provider.  If you don't have a strong on-line brand or SEO presence, they'll never see you.

Wrong Question:  "What is going to happen in my industry over the next ten years?"
Right Question:  "What is going to STAY THE SAME for the next ten years?"
Why:  Guessing the future is so difficult, even the most successful CEOs are wrong much of the time.  Better to be like Jeff Bezos of Amazon, who says he builds his business around bedrock attributes he feels will NOT change:  In his case, Low prices, fast delivery, and huge selection.  Customers are likely to want those things ten and twenty years from now.

Wrong Question:  "Who is in the market for solutions we sell?"
Right Question:  "Who has business problems we are uniquely qualified to fix?"
Why:  Probably less than 5% of the market is actively looking for a particular solution at any given point in time.  Yet nearly every business / organization has:
  • Problems that need immediate attention
  • Efficiencies that could be gained
  • Risks and vulnerabilities that need protection
By posing the question differently, you are expanding your universe of potential customers.  

Wrong Question:  "What should we do next?"
Right Question: "What would an outside expert do?"
Why: We often feel hemmed in and trapped by our choices and courses of action.  The leaders of Intel famously posed this question: "If we were fired and the board of directors hired a brand new management team, what would they do?".  They elected to make a business pivot and killed their top revenue, low margin DRAM business in order to focus on microprocessors.  The rest is history,

At Networking Events

Wrong Question:  "How are you?"
Right Questions:  
What's the best thing that happened to you today?
What are you excited about in your life right now?
What are you most looking forward to at this event?

Wrong Question:  "What do you do?"
Right Questions:  
What are you most passionate about?
What problem do you most wish you could solve?
What's the best thing about your job?

Why:  When you ask generic questions, you get generic answers. Show genuine interest and curiosity.

Leadership Questions

One prominent Private Equity Company poses these three questions to potential clients:
  1. Why doesn't everyone buy from you?
  2. What are your three biggest gripes?
  3. If you had $1 Million, how would you spend it?
Follow up: The AWE Questions

Wrong Follow Up Question:    "Is that it?"
Right Follow Up Question:  "And What Else?"
Why:   Called the "Best Coaching Question in the World' by renowned Executive Coach Michael Bungay Stanier, the "AWE Question" pushes people to go beyond top-of-mind answers.  It uncovers more insightful ideas and insights.

This is a variation on the "Five Whys" methodology that is used to uncover root causes of problems in Six Sigma Quality Programs.  

An example might go like this:

Q: What is your #1 corporate priority?
A: To shorten our turnaround times
Q: What would this do for you?
A: It would certainly cut our costs
Q: And what else?
A: and allow us to take on new customers
Q: And what do you hope that would bring?
A: we could increase our revenues and perhaps branch off into new service offers
Q: And what would that do for you?
A: Expand our business, increase our business valuation and improve our financial stability
Q: And if you were able to accomplish this, what would that mean...

Like a four-year-old questioning* Mom and Dad, the five whys keep asking "why?" until you get to the root cause of your issue.  

*Interesting Fact:  Question-asking peaks around the age of four, when children routinely ask over 100 questions a day.,  According to research, this number declines every year to the point where people ask very few questions, or none, as teenagers.  Study done by the non-profit Right Question Institute.


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Mike Schmidtmann
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