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The Power Question That Doubles Your Understanding

Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
February 6, 2011

A great needs analysis or discovery sales call is a work of art. When done well, a great salesperson can draw out the dissatisfaction that is the necessary motivation and rationale for change. Uncovering that dissatisfaction is often enough to help advance the opportunity.

But the very best needs analysis sales calls go far deeper. Knowing your dream client’s dissatisfaction isn’t the best you can do to ensure that you win; understanding is. Real understanding comes from asking the most powerful question in your arsenal: “Why?”

A Childlike Curiosity

Anyone who has been around young children has been put through the funny, and torturous, ordeal of answering their questions. It starts out simple enough. The question may be something like: “Why is it light in the daytime and dark at night?” You answer: “Because the earth is revolving as it moves around the Sun.” The follow up questions come fast and furious: “Why does the Earth turn,” and “Why is it going around the Sun,” and “Why is the Sun in the middle?”

Why? Why? Why?

Children seek to understand. They are unburdened with the bias that comes from knowing a few things and believing that those few things apply to everything similar that they encounter.

Alternatively, we adults have made many needs analysis sales calls, and we immediately recognize the patterns. So we drop the child-like curiosity, believing that we have traded it for business acumen. We know things. We’re supposed to know things.

But business acumen doesn’t always answer the question: “Why?”

+ Grown Up Business Acumen

You need to understand business well enough to help your dream clients improve their business. It’s also very helpful to have the situational knowledge that comes from having done lots of discovery sales calls and from actually helping clients.

It’s good to know some things. It’s even better to know that there is far more that you don’t know.

Your dream client expects you to have a strong foundational knowledge. They don’t expect you to know and understand what things mean within their own organization or to have knowledge of their experiences.

When your dream client say: “We are struggling to improve our outputs here and costs are too high,” you could assume that you understand their dissatisfaction and that they want greater productivity and reduced costs. Fair enough. You might be tempted to stop right there, believing you know enough to present a solution.

A grown up business acumen, one that includes a brave, childlike curiosity, requires more of you. You could ask the follow up question to ensure that you understand: “Why are you struggling to improve your productivity,” and “Why is this productivity improvement such a high priority,” and “What are the consequences of not improving your productivity here?”

Your experience may provide these answers. And it may not. Their experiences and ideas will answer these questions (or help you to help them answer them).

Answering the question “why” will provide you with a greater understanding of your dream client’s motivation to change. It will help you understand the implications, as well as helping you to understand what really needs done to make an improvement.

An effective needs analysis peels back more layers of the onion. By doing so, you can often discover better and more effective ways to help your dream clients improve their performance. If you are resourceful, you may find that your creativity helps you to help your dream client leap past any performance gain that they might have imagined.

Be smart. Get business acumen. Get experience. And retain your brave, childlike curiosity so you can keep asking questions until you understand.


As adults, why do we stop asking questions?

Why are we afraid to ask for the information we need to understand? Is it a greater display of our ignorance that we ask, or that we don’t ask?

How much more effective would your discovery sales calls be if you were truly curious?

How do you retain your ability—and your willingness—to learn?

Even if the assumptions you make during a needs analysis are correct, what might you gain by asking the question “why” anyway?

Sales 2011
Post by Anthony Iannarino on February 6, 2011

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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