Questions: The Key to Unlocking Business Needs

The Trail: blog post for August 2015
by Jeff Cartwright

When trying to solve a problem or probing for new business opportunities, asking questions is essential.  But more than simply throwing out random questions, is a need to prepare questions that will be germane to the growth of the client’s business, and his vision for the company.  Oddly enough, you must first ask yourself what questions you’re going to ask prospective clients. What questions are you going to ask to uncover his/her needs?  What questions can you ask to find out if you are a perspective supplier of theirs? If there’s a problem, what questions can you ask to figure out the problem's root? These are all important introspective moves and will lead to a more fruitful discussion.  

After prepping there are three steps you can take to use questions to unlock the needs of the business. 

Pre-plan the questions. 

One thing you need to get from this blog post is preparation is key. It’s important you thoroughly understand what you want to gain from the meeting and how to direct questions that will provide relevant information. List out your decided questions beforehand and refer to them during the meeting.  There are different kinds of questions.  

  • Questions of clarification are ones where you hope to reiterate your knowledge.
  • Questions to offer new information (or, insight),  are ones leaning toward new business opportunities that may be unknown to the client.
  • Questions to summarize are open-ended and broad. Use these to gain big picture perspective. 
  • Questions of failure, ones that allow him/her to tell you in more detail what they’ve tried that didn’t work.

What you’re trying to do with these questions is simple—you’re trying to learn more about your client.  However, asking a poignant question isn’t enough.


Develop follow up questions from what they tell you. 

What you’re trying to do with these questions is open an avenue for discussion.  Follow up questions are great for this. It’s important to have question prepared from what they tell you.  This might come organically in the conversation or you might be able to map out beforehand how you think the conversation will go.  The key is to over prepare in these situations.  Get to a place in your mind where you’re not just thinking about what they’re telling you but you’re also ready to follow up with the answer they provide. 

The best salespeople I’ve known in my career have always been the most inquisitive. 

The inquisitive sales person instinctively wants to know more about the client, the company, demographics, the market place, etc, and that inquisitive nature benefits everyone involved. 

Be prepared to offer helpful answers. 

The next step is, you guessed it, more preparation. Be prepared to offer them answers to questions they may ask. This may come from research or forethought.  Whatever the process, a stable answer will put the client at ease.  One more tip is the final question, or opportunity you’ll give them to provide you with crucial information

At the end of the conversation I always ask, Is there any question I didn’t ask that I should have? 

That last question is crucial and provides them an opportunity to open up to you.  It allows them to tie up loose ends or set you down a different path or maybe give you information you never would have thought of before.  

The more information you gather, the more opportunity you have to meet the needs of the client.  You have to ask thought provoking questions, then you have to listen, really listen to the answers. That’s the key!