Why you can’t get Big Answers by asking Small Questions

It doesn’t matter what kind of organization you work in, we bet that somewhere, you have customers. And sure as shooting, you (or someone around you) says you’d just like to understand your customers better. But when those same customers tell you something you don’t want to hear, you discount your responses. “They just don’t understand”. “Focus groups are useless”. “Our Sales Team is with customers all day. They know what we really need.” “Maybe if the interviewer would just explain it to them, they’d get it!”

Yet in our business, which is at its heart, the business of helping our customers listen to their customers, and correctly interpreting what they meant, by what they said, showed, or told us, we often see the same questions being asked. We see questions, and lots of them. “What’s the right price for this product – would you pay $10? $100? $1000?” (What if what they’d pay isn’t one of the choices you offered?) “What’s the most motivating thing about this ad?” (Imagine if the real answer is, “nothing”.)

The problem is often that when you talk to customers, you have a pre-ordained idea of what the answers should be. You assume things about your clients, such as that they don’t know what they want, or they won’t tell you, or that they can’t. In order to frame the discussion in such a way as to prevent or surmount these issues, you ask more questions…more and more specific questions…more finely sliced-and-diced. In order to make it faster and cheaper, a typical survey is probably 99% “talk” and 1% “listen”.

Herein lays the problem. The more constraints we put on customers to answer in a way that satisfies our egos, assumptions, or what we believe are the “right” requirements, the less likely we can get to the truth. Remember truth? It’s the part of the discussion that is what the clients are really thinking, feeling, wanting. The space between what they say out loud (the overt) and what they really know, or believe, or do (the covert). In there lies the truth. Yes, you might be able to beat the truth out of some of them, with some sort of interrogation-style survey but for most, a different approach is required.

For a great result, you really have to do a “deep dive” with your customer. Just as real deep diving is more than just jumping into the water in a funny looking suit, you have to build a partnership in order to achieve successful outcomes. You need to show them that you trust them with the good, the bad, and the ugly information about your products, your services, and your companies. You need to encourage them to keep talking, and spend your time listening, instead of just asking. Show them that you want the answers to the deep, the profound, and the truly important questions. Let them know that what they have to say is important, that you aren’t just trying to appease them with quick, canned answers. Instead you want an ongoing dialogue where you help them solve their problems, and those of their customers, in a way that is profitable to all. If you’ve built a customer partnership, they will understand you, and they’ll share a part of themselves that will make it easy for you to know what you need to do to keep them happy.

So to that, we’d like to set out a challenge for you. What is the deep, profound, big question that, if answered, could create the strongest bond between you and your customers for the coming year?

Thinking deeply about you,

Megann & Steve


Make better decisions, get better results, grow your business. We use a deep toolkit of specialized techniques help clarify your objectives, identify decisions that must be made, and eliminate knowledge gaps, resulting in strategy with a firmer foundation and better results.

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