Effective questions increase probability of success. I spent six years in the FBI asking questions (most of which, I knew the answers to in advance). In my time as an Agent, I interviewed and interrogated criminals, witnesses, subject-matter experts, executives and confidential informants. I quickly recognized how questions impact results. In situations where national security and public safety are at risk, asking the right questions is critical to collecting necessary information to execute a successful operation with speed and accuracy.

Questions also influence revenue and success in business. 

Questions reveal problems, and people buy to solve problems. As business professionals, we must figure out what those problems are.

Understanding key issues important to buyers enable accurate delivery of targeted solutions, more efficient sales processes, and control from start to finish.

Without control, confusion sets in, processes stall, and deals don’t get done (and deals mean revenue). If we control the questions, we control the process. Whether qualifying buyers, identifying needs, or investigating opportunities — control is not gained by simply asking questions. Instead, control is achieved through getting questions clearly answered.

Question marks on a chalkboard


Ask the Hard Questions

Asking effective questions also means asking hard questions. In business and sales, we tend to avoid asking tough questions for fear of being disliked and losing the deal. We choose not to “rock the boat”, and fail to identify real concerns. Instead, we talk AT them and attempt to pitch every possible feature available, and hope something sticks. Or, we ask bad questions at the wrong times. Buyers are smarter, more sophisticated, and time-pressed in business today. The window to make a strong impression is small. People quickly close off and become resistant to vulnerability when talked at, asked poorly constructed questions, and pitched irrelevant solutions. And, eventually, we lose the deal because we did not solve a real problem. 

What problems can you solve for the buyer? You need to get an answer to that. 

What motivates the buyer? You need to know their dominant buying motive.

What does the buyer want to accomplish by adopting your service or solution? You need to know how best to implement your solution to meet their needs.

Ask the Hard Questions


Questions need to resonate and create impact with a buyer. Questions like, “What works well with your current solution?”; “What would you change to make it a 10?”; and “Why would it make sense to do business with us?” require thought, engagement, and will help provide you and the buyer better context on where you fit with your solution. 

Ask "What else?"

When asking these types of questions, listen to the answers. Also, be sure to capture all of the possible reasons they can think of by asking, “what else?” Do this until they run out of reasons. This simple action will uncover several areas for you to determine how you can fit or solve the issues important to them.

Ask "What do you mean by that?"

When a buyer answers your questions with general or vague responses, ask, “what do you mean by that?” This provides a gentle nudge for them to think through their point, and become clear with their reasons. 

For example, “Max, when you say you need more support from your vendors, what you do mean by that?”

Ask "If you did know, what would it be?"

Buyers will often respond with uncertainty, or an “I don’t know.”  When this happens, ask them what the answer would be if they did know. It is your responsibility to push for clear answers.  Clarity will provide you with a roadmap to best serve their needs, and help them gain certainty in the need to solve their problem.

Questions on foreheads

More Effective Questions:


“I don't have your attention yet, do I?” 

People make time for things they are interested in. Attention is required to capture interest. We often get into a pitch, and fail to command the buyer's attention. When a buyer shares signs of disinterest (e.g. brushes you off, asks you to call back another time or send some materials to review, etc.), recognize it, and get their attention before moving on. By asking if you have their attention, or acknowledging you do not it, you will actually grab their attention. Then take full responsibility and move into why you are different (e.g. why my company, why my product/service, and why me).

“If only half of what I am telling you is true, would it be worth a real look?” 

People hear bold claims all the time during a pitch. Most have become cliche. When you make a bold claim, be clear, authentic, and truthful (e.g. we will increase your revenues by 30% in 90 days), then confidently ask if they believe you. This quickly engages them into the conversation and helps determine interest and early concerns.

“Have you seen enough to make a decision?”

People tend to present, pitch, and continue to sell long after a customer has seen enough. This is a great question to ask at different stages of the process to determine what additional information the customer needs to make a decision, or if the customer is ready to buy. Sometimes it also helps uncover who will actually be making the decision (which should be determined up front by asking who else, including them, will be involved in this decision. 

“Why would you do business with me, when you have dealt with our competitor for so long?” 

Here is an example of a tough question to help uncover relevant issues for you to solve. This is an opportunity to extract several reasons direct from the source (e.g. asking “why else”) and generate clarity (e.g. “what do you mean by that”) for both of you to make sense of the deal.

“There are only three reasons you wouldn’t do this:  (1) You don’t think it’s going to work, (2) You don’t think your people will use it, or (3) you’re not responsible for this type of decision — which one is it?”

Another example of a tough question to isolate the buyer’s real concern, so you can help them work through it. If they don’t think it’s going to work, share examples of success experienced by their direct competitors. If they don’t think their people will use it, share ways you can provide reporting and tracking so they can integrate your solution into their workflow. Last, sometimes people claim to be the decision maker, when they may just be an influencer. If they are not the true decision maker, ask, “who else, besides yourself, needs to be involved?” This is a respectful way to encourage them to share who needs to make the decision.

Hands raised for questions

Effective questions will benefit you and the buyer. Develop questions that work for you and make them your own. Drill them and deliver them with confidence. Most importantly, listen to the needs and concerns of your buyer and help them through the journey to a smart decision.

For more than 15 years, gap intelligence has served manufacturers and sellers by providing world-class services monitoring, reporting, and analyzing the 4Ps: prices, promotions, placements, and products. Email us at info@gapintelligence.com or call us at 619-574-1100 to learn more.