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What Makes a Perfect Question?

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 3/31/13 8:44 AM

A #blogchat #carnival topic

Last Sunday night I played one of my favorite games that I call 'Twitter roulette', where I use my mobile twitter app and spin through the people I follow and randomly stop to see what comes up. If it's interesting, I explore further. If not, I spin the wheel again. This is how I discovered an event called #blogchat that happens every Sunday night on Twitter at 8pm CST.

Basically the idea is that you follow the #blogchat hashtag and have mini-conversations within the thread of others who are participating in the online chat. Sort of like a virtual speed dating event. Back in the 90's it was called a chat room. I like this better than the 90's chat room of old, because there are no 'walls', it can be seen by anyone who follows the hashtag. I found some interesting new people and connected again with some I knew in other social media channels.

One of those interesting new people was Nick Kellet, and he put out a blog challenge. I can't easily resist a challenge.

First, it is my belief that perfection isn't a state, it's a goal. However, if you are unable to accept failure and learn from it, you will never grow and improve at anything, and perfection becomes your obstacle to action. Asking better questions is the only way to get better outcomes. Besides, what our idea of perfection is really our own perspective, is it not?

The perfect question is the one that changes something. Perhaps it is the question that you hadn't planned to ask, but was inspired to by the conversation that is happening. It might change the direction of the conversation, or challenge the perspective of an established mindset (maybe even your own).

How the Inbound Networkers Replied

I also wanted to find out what my peers thought. So, I asked them too. Here is what the active members of the Inbound Networkers said on Linkedin.

Is it asking a question that makes the prospect look off into space saying, "I hadn't even thought about that!"

Or is it the question that you tell your prospect that you don't have the right to ask, but they ask you to ask it anyway and when you do you realize that you've just achieved 'trusted adviser' status?

Or is it the follow-up question that translates into, "If you were gonna answer that last question truthfully, what would it sound like?"

Cliff Pollan, CEO at Visible Gains: Another line is how to motivate people to want to change. On that front:

What is the hardest thing for you when you think about making the decision to make such a change?

What would it feel if you were able to make this change?

What is a good example when you faced this before and did go for it?

Lori Richardson, Inside Sales Trainer at Score More Sales: I like a question that elicits curiosity and really makes the other person think rather than just firing off a canned response.

Question with canned reply: How are you?

Curious question: At this exact moment, how do you feel compared to one year ago (or, other time frame)? - typically gets a more thoughtful response.

Brian Bachofner, Channel Development Manager at InsideView:  I know my favorite response is = "what a great question." 1. it makes you feel good and smart.. feeds the ego and increases your confidence on a call. 2. usually indicates is an area of focus or concern with a client.

Steve Gillis, Director of Sales at American Montage: Questions are like tools in a box, each has a particular use as displayed above. Here's another: take control (or take back control) of a meeting. This is often a non sequitur. Example - 2 weeks ago I'm with a high tech company. They keep asking questions focusing on minutia and it's becoming tedious. A moment of relief flashes and so I ask - "Hey is your company presenting at SXSW or have any reps going this week?" They're talking, I'm listening and am able to the lead the conversation, with questions, away from the rocks.

Jen Mueller, Reporter and Producer at Root Sports Northwest: I have a slightly different take as a sports broadcaster who gets paid to ask questions for a living... the perfect question is the one that you want to know the answer to. It's more about your curiosity than the person who is responding.

The questions I ask during post game interviews are the questions that I'm curious about or that I know fans watching the game are curious about. For example: "What happened on that play?" "How much did your history against this team play into today's game?" "Did this play out the way you expected?"

In my experience, when you try to over think the question to get the "perfect" answer, you can miss the best nuggets of information. In addition, asking the "perfect" question can cause you to think so much about yourself that it takes you away from listening to the answer - which again defeats the purpose of asking in the first place. 

My favorite questions are the ones that find out the why. Understanding why is important because it is the motivating reason that we do something, or don't do it. Asking why gets beyond the symptoms and focuses instead on the cause.

The best questions are short, simple, precise and unassuming. The perfect questions are the ones that are answered with "I don't know" because that means you now have something to do. You ask questions because you want to learn something, either about yourself, another person, circumstance, or situation. The perfect question helps you understand clearly and without doubt what you need to do next.

What do you think makes a perfect question? What are some of the best questions you have asked, been asked or even overheard? What did you do next? What questions have changed you? Share them in the comments below.

Do you want to learn how to ask your prospects better questions in your marketing and sales processes? Start with the questions that help you understand their motivations and mindset first. Check out the Buyer Persona Jump Start Workshop.

Topics: sales techniques, inbound networkers