The Value of a Good Question
Sometimes the answers are easy to find. Never underestimate the importance of a good question. Just ask a Jeopardy contestant.
It was a two hour exam. As he thoughtfully sought the best words and phraseology in response to the assignment a glance at the clock reminded him that it was now 2:45. Only 15 minutes remained until the bluebook answers were to be turned in. The proctor overseeing the process reminded the students of the time. “You will also recall that those failing to complete the exam in the allotted time period by returning it to my desk promptly by 3:00 will automatically receive a zero,” he added.
As the clock reached the 2:55 mark only a handful of students remained in the 200 seat lecture hall. Fighting fluster he summoned renewal and composed himself for his final thought, walking his exam up front just as the monitor condescendingly called time.
Preparing to place his bluebook on the supervisor’s desk the futility of his effort was acknowledged with a finger wag. “You understand that your grade is a zero,” advised the monitor.
Momentarily defeated and frustrated, the young man gained enough composure to ask the question, “Sir, do you not know who I am?”
The proctor smartly replied, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” At that the student, with little hesitation, stared back, simultaneously grabbed the entire stack of bluebooks off the desk, thrust them towards the ceiling, and strode out of the lecture hall muttering, “that’s what I thought.”
Many answers are easily found. Years ago there was a World Book Encyclopedia, a parent, or a neighbor to reference. Today it’s often times a Google search. Is it not surprising that the answers to the ultimate smart person game show, Jeopardy, come in the form of a question?
The best sales people are gifted with asking good questions. They are consistently open-ended (eliciting more than a yes, no, fine response), are thought provoking, and customer centric. Some of the most effective may track along these lines:
· May I ask you some questions about your business?
· You specialize in X. Why did you choose that niche?
· What are your goals for the next three, six, and 12 months?
· How does your company evaluate new products and services before buying?
· Tell me about your average day. How would this product solution impact your daily work?
· What’s holding your team back from reaching your goals?
· Who are you doing business with now? Why did you choose them as a vendor?
· Who else do you think I should speak with?
Another selling proposition is the job interview. Certainly the value of preparation and knowing the right thing to say to the interviewer should not be diminished. In my many years of conducting interviews, however, it was always surprising the number of applicants who presented no questions about the job, work conditions, and organizational goals. The most impressive applicants would go so far as to artfully turn the interview around to where they would express an interest in me:
· What have you liked best about working here?
· If I were to be offered a job here and accepted, what are three things that you feel would lead to my success as an employee?
· What do you and this organization value?
Reflecting later, if they were that connected with me, how effective might they be with a customer? More often than not, they got the job.
Beyond the world of business, interpersonal relations and even romance benefit from honest, non-accusatory questions. Usually they don’t begin with a “why” as in “why do you always do that?” Whether you are married, in a committed relationship, or interested in dating, far too much attention is paid to personal appearance and aesthetics. For sure, proper grooming and establishing the right mood is important. How often though, do we approach special times as an opportunity to get to know the other person better, even if you’ve been together before cable TV or the Internet? When first getting to know someone what about:
· Out of the wines or beer you drink, which do you like best? Why? (Ok to ask in this context)
· I’ve been looking for a good book to read. Are you a reader? What have you read that you enjoy?
· What has been your favorite vacation? What made it your best?
· When you were a kid what did you like to do? What part of that would you like to still be doing?
My dad, Tex, started college when he was 69. Forever questing knowledge he rarely turned down an opportunity to talk to someone, even a total stranger, who might share a bit of history, information, or an anecdote. I know where to blame my curiosity. What about you?