The art of powerful questions


‘I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.’ Albert Einstein

Most of what humans know about our world today came about because people were curious. People who have left a lasting legacy like Einstein or Steve Jobs, for instance, did so because they were genuinely curious and searched for the right questions to ask. ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish’, was Steve Jobs exhortation and encouragement to a graduating class of Stanford University. If you haven’t seen it, look up the video on YouTube; it is really inspiring. He was imploring the graduation class not to be too easily satisfied or to get too complacent and to have an insatiable desire to learn. The curiosity that needs to be nurtured, he said to the students, is the search for knowledge.

Powerful questions are based on a genuine curiosity about your potential dream customer’s world. How you can help a prospect becomes self evident to you and to them when you ask the right questions and demonstrate genuine interest.

Ask questions to understand, not to boast about your own knowledge

It becomes more difficult to ask the right questions if you are searching for the answers you want. Some people even believe they should never ask a question they don’t already know the answer to.  The problem is that when you ask a question to get the answer you want, or when you ask questions that you already know the answer to, today’s more sophisticated buyers perceive it as manipulative and choose how they answer very carefully.

Watch any formal public hearing or commission to see how those under scrutiny carefully consider the consequences of how they answer a question. You can see in their faces they are weighing up what was really meant by the question and asking themselves if it is leading to a place that they don’t want to go to.

Constructing the right questions

Constructing the right question lies at the heart of effective communications and information exchange. By using the right questions in a particular situation, you can improve a whole range of communications skills; for example, you gather better information and learn more; you build stronger relationships, and you help others to learn too. The questions you ask should be constructed in the context of the products and services you provide.

There are five types of questions Principled Sellers use to explore the prospects’ world:

  • Open questions
  • Open specific questions
  • Reflective questions
  • Summarizing questions
  • Closed questions

Powerful questions

All  types of questions are important but some are more powerful than others in helping you to understand.

The most powerful, Why, How and What not only help you to understand they also help your prospect to think about their business in a way they may not have done before. When a client say, ‘that’s a good question’ you know you are getting them to think.

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David Tovey

By David Tovey

David Tovey helps sales teams, business owners and professionals to build amazing business relationships, win more business and accelerate profitable growth.


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