Ask And You Shall Receive

When it comes to reading books, I employ a simple rule: 60 pages. I give the author in question 60 pages to convince me to keep reading.

At that point, if I’m not liking it, I give myself permission to put the book down and never look back.

And I have to tell you, it wasn’t looking good these last few days for Warren Berger and his book, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.

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Had you stopped me in Starbucks at page 19, I would have predicted he wasn’t going to make it.

Had you sidled up to my car at page 32, as I waited for my son Jon at the train station, I would have told you it didn’t look good.

Indeed, had you tapped me on the shoulder the other night at page 47, as I read a few pages in bed before going to sleep, I would have told you to get the hell out of my house. And then I would have said, “Not a keeper.”

And yet somehow, somewhere in the mid-fifties, things started to click, and Mr. Berger got over my admittedly subjective bar.

The book, if I may unfairly oversimplify a man’s 272 pages of writing and years of hard work, makes a simple point: There’s more to be learned in asking questions than there is in knowing answers.

Questions, according to the author, are where the best insights are born.

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, it’s questions that have become the basis of my entire approach to selling (and something I recommend for you as well).

You see back when I first became a solo professional (2000) and although at that point I had many years of big company marketing experience, I really knew nothing about selling.

Actually, it was even worse than that: The little I knew, was wrong.

Back then, I believed that selling was a technique-oriented skill, a thing you did to manipulate people into hiring you.

Different situations required different techniques, and your job in selling – like learning street self defense – was to become well versed in handling and countering every possible situation and weapon that your adversary might bring. Or something like that.

Today – and thanks in large part to another book: Selling with Integrity – I see things very differently.

It’s not about leading with answers (i.e., “Here’s what I do and why you should hire me”). Instead, it’s about focusing on helping the other person solve whatever problem he or she has.

And you can’t do that without asking lots and lots of questions.

Questions like…

  • Tell me about your business.
  • What’s not working?
  • How would things look/work if this problem were solved?
  • Why haven’t you already fixed/done this yourself?

All of these and questions like them help the other person focus and articulate what’s going on, while at the same time giving you the information you need to make suggestions.

Here’s an even simpler way to think about it: Stop looking at the other person as a prospect to be sold and just think of them as a friend.

A friend who has a problem in the area in which you have a lot of experience and expertise.

In that situation, and in order to help them figure out what to do next, you wouldn’t be trying to close them. Instead, you’d ask a lot of questions – all with the goal of pointing them in the right direction.

Well, effective selling, I’ve learned, is the exact same thing: Help people solve their problems.

If the solution is you, great. If it isn’t (and this is the hard part) tell them why and send them to a better place. (I don’t mean kill them; I mean someone or something that makes more sense for them.)

“Now hold on there just a minute, Mr.Look-What-I-Learned-In-A-Book-Solo-Professional-Marketing-Guy, don’t you have to eventually close people so that at least some of them buy from you?”

Sure. But after you’ve used questions to understand the situation, offer options and clear away any confusion that the other person is experiencing, the closing part is both pleasant and easy.

At that point, either everything comes together and you’re well down the road towards getting hired or they thank you for your honest, helpful advice and go off on their merry way.

In the end, either you get a new client, or you get a new friend, both of which are very good for your business.

Warren Berger’s book has suddenly got me questioning everything. Here are three of mine (add yours down below):

  1. Why don’t waiters write things down anymore?
  1. How would the world be different if people continued growing (physically), throughout their entire lives?
  1. Why does NPR insist on updating me on the Dow Jones Industrial Average all day long? It seems to me that those who care have already figured out a more timely, more efficient way to track this number.

33 thoughts on “Ask And You Shall Receive

  1. Kathie Gow

    How would the world be different if people STOPPED growing (physically) at age 25, and then had to work to buy themselves more “time” to live, like in the movie “In Time.” How would that change the decisions we make about our jobs? It would certainly focus our choices!

  2. Debby Brown

    How about if we never felt tired, so we never had to sleep? What would each of us accomplish with all those extra hours (alert hours) in the day?
    Great newsletter as usual, Michael.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Wow, that is really interesting to think how much time each day we spend asleep. Plus just being awake all night long would be cool too.

      That reminds me too of the question, how would the world be different if we never needed to eat? No restaurants, no grocery stores, even fewer things to do when you visit your parents.. (I know you’d still find a way to bake things though, Debby.)

  3. JudyB

    Great article, Michael! Thank you for sharing.

    Question: What if something happened that wiped out communication as we know it today. No social media, no smartphones, no internet. Would the marketing world be able to re-adjust … or has it become too dependent? When you get right down to it – what would we do as a nation? Would we be able to cope period since society as we know it freaks out if a battery dies, cable goes out, never mind the whole system.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      That would definitely change things, Judy. In fact, just yesterday I was talking with someone about how easy it is to set up shop as a solo today compared to even 20 years ago, thanks mostly to technology which has removed many of the advantages of scale.

        1. Michael Katz Post author

          Thanks for the book recommendation Jim! There’s another book (I’ll have to see if I can find it) which describes in detail what would happen to a place like NYC if the people suddenly vanished. I found it amazing how quickly it all just falls to pieces without constant upkeep.

        2. JudyB

          “One Second After” – Yipes!
          Thanks, Jim. And it’s even set in North Carolina … I live in Raleigh, NC …
          I’m getting the book today.

  4. Cliff Robbins

    Yup; selling is more about listening than talking. That’s why we have TWO ears and only one mouth.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Just reading that sent a shiver up my spine, Roger! Glad you and I are both happily on the outside.

  5. Bobbie H

    This article was particularly nice for me since this is how we handle sales discussions.
    We offer a lot of free information and it has helped us more than once.

    I makes me wonder why, with all the tools we have to communicate, we can’t do more good with them. So many smart people out there seem to be using their knowledge to harm rather than help.

    Thanks! I like what you do with communication.

  6. Don Kleiner

    Exactly! I frequently begin a client conversation with a simple”what are you looking to do?” from there it is easy to say I offer at trip that does this that is similar or can be altered to make it look more like what you are thinking of. Or perhaps most importantly ” that is not even close to what I offer, let me give you the phone number of another guide who does that or something similar.
    Neither of us will be happy if the expectation is far from what can be delivered.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello Don!
      That’s a great example. It almost seems too simple, and yet, as you point out, it serves to point everyone in the same direction.

  7. Jonn Karsseboom

    Bravo Michael! So…How’d you do that? How’d you make me read happily everything you wrote? How’d you make me snicker and make other’s wonder what I’m doing? How did I feel the tension during your story? How did I pleasantly get a serious lesson wrapped in humor like I give my dog his medicine hidden in a hot dog? Questions…. I have questions…

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Very nice of you to say Jonn! It almost (almost) excuses you for missing the Master’s class this week!! Don’t make me drive out to Portland and deliver it in person, because you know I will. (P.S. I know it’s your busy season; hope you can make the next call. :))

  8. Dan Kane

    Interesting timing. Just before I read your article, I pulled out some CD’s I purchased a few years ago from Michael Pink, author of Selling Among Wolves. The set of CD’s is entitled “The Moses Questioning Strategy” and discusses 7 lines of questioning to help uncover need, expose pain and expand your territory. Thanks for your insight on this topic.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      My pleasure, Dan. And yes, that’s an interesting coincidence! Thanks for posting,

  9. Doug Sowerbutts

    In many cases I base any purchase or further interest on going through the Q and A’s of any product or service. All sales are based on a satisfactory answer to a need and questiuons…..Perhaps every website for a product or service should contain a comphrehensive Q and A section.

  10. norman lieberman

    Hi Michael:

    Your topic above on emphasizing questions is excellent. It is a strategy I’ve used for decades in my two businesses. One is as an executive recruiter for technical folks where client companies have a extra difficult time filling a position. For me to be successful for these firms I have to have a firm grip on what they are seeking in an Engineer. The normal job description doesn’t work or they would have hired someone with it. It is through smart questioning that gives me the smart answers that I need to succeed in helping my client find the needle in a haystack candidate.

    Additionally, I use the questioning model in my business of coaching others on how to get a significant raise. This too requires answers from my client that will allow me to help them. Even when my coaching clients, or hiring companies, provide answers they are often inadequate answers. I have to continue onion peeling their responses to get to the heart of the matter. And i onion peel their responses by asking more questions.

    So the vast majority of my interface with client firms, prospective candidates and coaching clients is involved in me questioning them so that I can best help them. If I didn’t do that then I would not have been successful for over 30 years in business.

    I teach those that I represent that they too must use proper questioning. Examples: I teach candidates how to properly frame questions during their interviews. Also, I teach my coaching clients how to frame questions when asking their boss for a raise.

    Bottom line: I gave a long rant here to simply say that I agree with your article. Now I’m exhausted and need a cookie.

    I like Don’s question of “what are you looking to do?”

    Here are some of the questions that I use.

    How will that make a difference? What made you decide to take that route? How did that work for you? What other choices did you have at the time? What was the deciding factor in your decision? If you could do that one over again, knowing what you know now, what would you have done and why?

    Thank you,

  11. Cameron

    Why as you get older do you catch your big toe in your undies as you get dressed and have to hop around the room in an ungainly manner. (And, why does it always happen on the coldest days when you need to rush?)

    I know this will not help to sell more but it is a question that has concerned me for a few years. Could I apply for a government Grant (very large of course) to solve this for all mankind.

  12. Mark Wayland

    Michael. I have 2 questions … the first one is where do all the flies go in winter? I know this is weird but for an Australian this is important …. just Google “the great Australian salute”

    The second is why are we continually seduced by bright shiny objects .. in our life and in our business … that distracts us from the fundamentals of mastering understanding people … I mean, the reasons why people buy (or buy-into) things never change … status, sense of belonging, sex (there I said it), power, security, pain avoidance, and a lot more.

    Yet, why is it that when George Clooney (aka Michael Katz with a rug) makes a cup of coffee with a brand-name coffee machine we think that’s better than one that he doesn’t use … why don’t we easily see through this?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello Mark!
      While I’ve asked Clooney that question countless times he always pretends he didn’t hear me and just goes back to reading his People Magazine.

      And I have to say, as a marketer with a psychology degree, I enjoy the fact that people are not logical. Makes the art of persuasion much more interesting.

      And thanks for the the Australian flies heads up – I will check it out!

  13. Dick Wooden

    I appreciate the update on this book as I have just started reading. I typically read the first and last chapter to determine if I should read the rest of a book. I’d ditto your recommendation on Sharon Drew Morgan’s book and encourage readers consider her Buyer Facilitation. Also I strongly recommend Power Questions by Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas with 337 questions in building relationships and win new business.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Great recommendations, Dick! Thanks, I will check those out.

      And I like the idea of reading the first and last chapters. I will try that too.

      (On a related note, I’ve also heard that when reading a novel, it’s fun to reread the first chapter when you’re all done, since you appreciate all the foreshadowing that you may have missed the first time through!)



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