Not long ago we were having a training session with one of our clients as we worked through a small portion of our NeuroQuestioning Program. It’s a program designed to help sales professionals and customer service individuals learn and understand how the brain reacts to specific questions when asked. One exercise we have everyone work through is to write down off the top of their heads 3-5 default questions that they use during every prospect or client interaction.
As expected, the results we got back were pretty typical of what we have seen from the average sales team
See, after years of interviewing and gathering data from hundreds if not thousands of professionals across multiple industries, and some of the largest companies in the world, it has been shown time and time again that “What” questions are everyone’s favorite default question.
It has been fascinating to see this play out over the last fifteen years, as I have trained people on this topic. When we have teams go through this exercise or when I have trained them individually, one of the activities that we take them through is having them write out their Top 5 Interrogative (Open-ended) questions that they use during their client engagements. Are you ready for this?
Over 70% of the questions, begin with the word “What”, EVERYTIME! There have even been many instances where the entire class gave their Top 5 and almost everyone of them; except for 1 or 2, begin all 5 questions with “What”.
So I ask you, “Why is that?”
It’s important to start with an understanding of what a “What” question actually lets you solve. I say it this way because each type of Interrogative Question allows you to solve for something either more or less effectively than using another. For example, should you use a “What” question or a “How” question to progress the conversation forward? Well, it all depends on what you are trying to accomplish.
That is ultimately what questioning is about. Solving and learning. Now, the word “What” typically goes toward an action of some kind, so it makes sense that most people default to it. Seeing that most cultures are very action-oriented and/or are self-preservation focused, it makes sense that this would be the most common question used. This is because we need to add to our current state of understanding:
- What just happened,
- What is happening now,
- What will happen,
- What can I do to be involved,
- What is this going to get me, and so on and so on.
I believe that “What” is viewed so highly because of all the Interrogative words, it is the most self-preservation-focused. It’s about giving YOU the information YOU want or think YOU need.
Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this line of questions. What’s wrong is that they are the default questioning line because most individuals don’t realize that there are better questions to ask at the right time. If your goal is to establish action or understand an action, well then I say. . . “What” away!
If that is your goal and you felt “What” is the best course, then let’s take a look at the importance of the word that follows. Here are a few examples of real questions that professionals like yourself find themselves asking consistently:
“What are you doing to fix that problem?”
“What can we do to make it a better experience?”
“What do they provide that we are not?”
Now I selected these three for a specific reason. I want to take a moment and dissect the importance of not just the first word, “What” but the second. Many times you will see “What” questions followed by one of these three words:
Each of these directs the action towards the person responsible or the action itself.
If you follow “What” with “are”, typically it’s about what they or someone else will be involved in.
- What are you doing later?
- What are the directors focusing on this week?
- What are the teams working on?
If you follow “What” with “can”, typically it is directed back toward you or a group you are a part of or lead:
- What can I do for you?
- What can we provide to help make the decision?
- What can the team produce to make sense of the problem?
If you follow “What” with “do”, typically it suggests an action that you or your team needs to take based on what your client needs:
- What do you need from us?
- What do we have that would help you?
- What do our leads not provide you?
So if you feel that your questions are preventing you from closing even one sale, I strongly suggest joining The Braintrust Academy and going through our Science of Effective Sales Questions course. As a Full Access Academy Member, you will also have access to several other incredible courses like Removing Barriers to Buy, NeuroSelling®️, the Science of Customer Decision Making, and much more! You can learn more about the Braintrust Academy below!