No one has ever asked us that

Question That's one of the sentences I love to hear in a new business conversation. 

And we hear it pretty often.  Why?  Do we know some secret about their business?  No.  Are we experts in their category?  Maybe, but that's not where the questions come from.

The questions come from not worrying about the sale.  And not already having the next sentence lying in wait in our brains, to drive home a point about us.

They come from listening like a detective, trying to solve a case.  Following leads in the conversation and tugging at every loose end, until we unravel whole story.  It comes from wanting to understand and help them grow their business, not win the account.

We ask a lot of why questions.  "Why are you in a hurry to build sales all of a sudden?"

We ask a lot of what if questions.  "What if we increase inquiries by 25%?  How will you handle that volume increase?"

We ask a lot of questions which frankly are none of a marketing agency's business.  But we do believe they are our business.  We believe agencies who stop at creating solid marketing tools are missing the boat.  We have to help the client anticipate what's coming next.  And often that comes from understanding what has come before.

We probably don't always ask them as delicately as we should.  Instead, we ask with intense curiosity and enthusiasm.  It's a way we demonstrate how we're different.   It's a way we add more value.

I've always believed that one characteristic early adopters have is curiosity.  Most people reading blogs today are early adopters.  So…how do you use your curiosity to help grow your clients business?  What are one or two questions you could ask that would inspire a prospect to say "no one's ever asked us that before."

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16 comments on “No one has ever asked us that

  1. Most of us have not considered what results are when we truly listen. We’ve been raised in a culture where spaces of silence in conversations aren’t really tolerated. We consciously have to learn to listen more because the benefit really comes back to us. Thanks for a great post, Drew.

  2. Robyn,

    For us, it’s a little like spelunking in a cave. You’re not really sure where in the dark you’re headed, but you know there’s some gold or other precious metal/stone in there somewhere.

    We just keep poking around until we find it.

    But you’re right. We talk too much. I had an informal meeting with a college student last night and as I was driving away, I was thinking…hmm. I should have shut up more.

    We can always get better.


  3. I think it’s simplest just to ask ourselves, “what are the questions this client SHOULD be asking themselves?” Those are the ones we should ask.

    I’ve sought to build my consulting business around asking questions. It means stepping back to look at the whole forest – most clients are immersed in today’s trees…

  4. Gavin Heaton says:

    I always love — how do you want to measure this? Then when we get “let’s add 10% to sales” I then ask “what do you do with ‘crazy success’?” What happens if we are wildly successful … and don’t just tell me “it is a good problem to have” because those good problems can bring you unstuck pretty quickly.

  5. Kevin Dugan says:

    Drives. me. nuts. when I can tell someone is just waiting for me to stop talking so they can either ask me a question or to simply start talking.

  6. Bill Gammell says:


    One of my favorite questions is:

    “And what will that get you?”

    Client: We want to do more advertising on the radio.
    You: And what would “more advertising on the radio” get you?
    Client: Well, hopefully it would increase the foot traffic to our store.
    You: And what will “more foot traffic” get you?
    Client: More potential buyers.
    You: And what will “more potential buyers” get you?
    Client: It should mean more sales.
    You: And what will “more sales” get you?
    Client: More people trying and talking about our product.

    And so on and so on. This line of questioning (when done properly) can help to drill to what is really needed. I’ve always found it helpful to preface this line of questioning with “Now we are going to do an exercise” so it doesn’t seem so annoying.

  7. Isn’t it truly amazing how few people truly listen? I’m sure I’m guilty of it, too. You just know the meetings where not enough listening happened. You walk away with no feeling of rapport with the client, no future opportunties to work on together and generally a sense of frustration. Imagine what the client is thinking. Something like: “I hate that overbearing know-it-all.”.
    Do you think she will do business with you after that meeting? Not a chance.

    Unfortunately, I truly don’t think that you can teach a non-listener to listen. A listener can always get better at listening, but I don’t believe that there’s any hope for the ingrained non-listener… Do you?

  8. Mark True says:


    Great observation, as normal. And it looks like other like-minded folks have found your blog and understand that questions powerful than answers, sometimes.

    Often, I just write “So what?” and “Why should anyone care?” on the board, and point to it when necessary.


  9. Elisabeth Nims says:

    In a time when many think they have heard and seen it all, I find that people are genuinely shocked when someone actually listens. We’ve been conditioned to simply just hear…most of the time because it’s just plain easier than truly probing and making connections. The fact is, listening isn’t passive..and to listen well, one needs to use more than just his/her ears. I was once told that one becomes known as a good conversationalist by listening intently and asking quiestions and I know this to be true.

  10. Steve,

    I agree — it is the differing perspective that allows us to ask the good questions. We don’t know the day to day grind so we can rise above it.

    And….once we get the big picture questions answered, we can help them change the day to day grind to better suit their goals.


  11. Kevin,

    I know. And I find that on the flip side…when I don’t have an agenda but just let the conversation and the questions take us out a ways (sooner or later you have to reel it back in) we always get one of those “ah ha moments” that lead us to a whole new place.


  12. Bill,

    Your exercise reminds me of my daughter’s “why” phase. But it is a simple and illuminating way to help clients understand the importance of digging a little deeper.

    Do you ever get any pushback?


  13. Suzanne,

    Well, we’re all guilty of it sometimes.

    I also think there is a difference between not being a good listener and being so ready to say the next thing or pre-determining the conversation that you can’t listen.

    I suppose I think anyone is teachable…if they want to learn. But I would guess most rock solid non-listeners don’t have too much desire to change.


  14. Mark,

    I am a huge fan of the “so what” test as well. It also works great when clients want to go on and on about things that matter to them but not to their customers.

    Then, they don’t like it as much!


  15. Elizabeth —

    Boy is that true. People love to talk about themselves…so ask a few questions, sit back and get credit for being the best conversationalist ever!


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