In his book A Beautiful Question, Warren Berger makes the case that questions create the "lightbulb effect" needed to innovate in anything. It’s an artform all of us learned as kids and almost all of us have lost somewhere along the way to growing up.
In Berger’s view, there’s a pressing need to re-discover the art of asking questions as a way to spark the fresh thinking needed to make innovations happen.
Berger’s manifesto for sparking ideas and an appetite for change with better questioning has profound implications for B2B sales productivity. In his view, done well, questioning opens doors for change to happen. It accomplishes this by opening others’ eyes to problems and opportunities they hadn’t seen before the questions were asked.
His perspectives offer the following three takeaways for B2B sales:
Berger sees questions as a way to organize your thinking around what you don’t know. And the latter is on the rise, whether we like it or not. In a time of rapid change, "comfortable experts" need to become "restless learners." Learning can’t happen without asking questions.
Question asking always begins with context-setting. Learning begins with asking "why." The mere asking of questions signals an engagement and interest in learning. On this, he contends, there’s a need to develop a habit of learning, thru questioning. Expert knowledge is valuable – but when it’s time to question and learn, such knowledge can get in the way.
Effective questioning is an important sales practice, perfected with practice. When practiced, it requires the art of observation. And listening hard. Most of us don’t notice enough when asking questions. We don’t take the time for close observation. Good questioners stop reflexively asking thoughtless questions. They pay attention. In doing so, they observe more and learn more.
Berger also contends that uncovering things you didn’t know before requires a sequencing of "why," "what if," and "how" questions. "Why" questions that work best require:
All of this requires that sales reps stop knowing and start asking. Just like designers do. And scientists.
Berger notes that there is no shortage of wicked problems buried within undiscovered questions of great value. When such questions surface, problems get seen more clearly. Berger notes the value of "strategic questioning" that’s open, curious, and slightly provocative, but never judgmental. Such questions enable a meaningful dialogue with people who are very different from you.
Berger writes that it’s common for companies to ask the wrong questions and try to solve the wrong problems. As one senior exec put it to me recently, “our buyers often confuse an equipment refresh with a business strategy."
Most businesspeople have limited skills in "problem-finding" or "problem-defining." Reps who become skilled in asking questions that find and define problems are therefore enormously valuable to their buyers. They’re helping buyers find and solve problems they couldn’t even see before the conversation began.
About the author
John Cousineau is the founder and CEO of innovative information inc., makers of Amacus, a solution that improves B2B sales productivity by letting sales teams discover and improve the buyer value of sales practices.
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