Questions?

October 4, 2017 John Barrows

As most of you know, I’m one of those obnoxious New England Patriots fans that rubs it in the rest of the Leagues face about how great we are and how TB12 is the undisputed G.O.A.T and Belichick is by far the greatest coach of all time.  Well, this year has been a bit humbling so far since the Pats defense is worst in the league and we’re sitting in 3rd place in the AFC East behind the Bills and the Jets. This past weekend was a pathetic display of football from my beloved Pats as they made the Panthers looks like Super Bowl contenders. That said, the saving grace after a loss like that is always the post-game press conference with Bill Belichick.

It always amazes me how sports reporters get paid to ask the stupidest questions to coaches and players. You know the ones I’m talking about. They’re the ones who ask the coach of a team who is getting destroyed going into halftime how they feel about the first half and what they need to do differently in the second half.  There is no one is better at answering those stupid questions with well-deserved condescending one-word answers than Bill Belichick.

The questioning skills of these reporters are so bad it’s laughable. I’m not even talking about being insightful or thoughtful with the questions they ask. I’m talking about the basics of asking open-ended questions versus close-ended questions. I counted 12 questions that were asked to Belichick during the press conference and 8 of them were close-ended. If you want to have a chance at someone talking or elaborating on something, you at least need to ask open-ended questions!

Bill Belichick Let's Party

Another master at making reporters feel inadequate based on their stupid question is Gregg Popovich, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs. I vividly remember watching a post-game interview after a playoff loss two years ago where the questions were so bad Pop didn’t even know how to react at a certain point. Check out the interview here.

The parallel or connection to business in both the Belichick and Popovich examples are obvious to me. We tend to ask stupid questions to executives and get exactly what we deserve – stupid answers.

For example, here’s one I used in the past and still hear all the time: “Tell me about your business.” First, this isn’t even a question. Second, you should know something about their business before you walk in the door or pick up the phone. Clients spend a lot of money on their website and marketing to tell the world about their business; to ask that question/statement not only shows your ignorance but is also insulting. Question-asking is a skill that needs to be continuously developed and improved.

We need to ask better questions so we can get better information and align ourselves more directly with the priorities of the business and executives.

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Here are some small tips on improving your questioning skills:

  • Instead of asking about the weather to try and build rapport at the beginning of the meeting, do some research on the account prior to your call/meeting to see if there is anything recent in their “news and events” to make reference to and use as small talk.
  • Ask open-ended questions early in the discovery phase.
  • Ask close-ended questions towards the end.
  • Ask “layering” questions to uncover the details of whatever it is: Tell me more about….; explain to me how….; give me an example of…
  • Ask “pain” (challenges) and “pleasure” (opportunities) questions.
  • Educate yourself on the executive priorities of the title/industry you’re meeting with. For example, type into google: “CIOs priorities, manufacturing, 2017”
  • Ask questions about the direction of the business and executive priorities when speaking to executives.
  • Ask more detailed or operational questions to people below the “power line.”

There are tons of tips and books written about questioning skills. These are some of the tips I’ve picked up along the way and have made a difference.

Go find more and Make It Happen!

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