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Start With "What": How To Ask Questions that Lead to Action

Sep 25, 2017
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I want to start this post out by saying I like Simon Sinek and his books. I believe there is great power in asking "why" but I think too many entrepreneurs and businesses get stuck there. The quote from Simon, “people don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe” (Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action) is great, but I think it tells only part of the story.

In the video below I share the power of asking "what questions." While people do care about the "why" behind a product or service, they first care about the "what." I don’t care how passionate your purpose is, if your product or service doesn't meet a need, people won't buy it. People care what you do for them. Then they look for your why.

Here is a link to The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever which I mention in the video.


Video Transcript: 

Hey. What's up, everybody? Welcome to Hack My Growth. In this episode, we're going to be talking about an extremely powerful question that we need to be asking ourselves when it comes to marketing our business or growing our business or even just trying to get more out of our team in general. Alright, let's go.

Alright. Before we get started, I just want to make one request. If you like our videos, if you like the content that we've been putting out, please hit the subscribe button. That way you can stay connected with us and continue to grow and learn with us as we continue to push the envelope in what we do. Lately, I've been reading this book right here, and it's called the coaching habit. It's a cool book for anybody who's into coaching development, leadership development, anybody who's leading a team or even just leading a business. What this book does is it focuses on seven questions that you can ask your team members, people you're working with to get more out of them and really to push the envelope, so you guys aren't just spinning in the same circles that you always spin in.

I think this is important too when we're talking about growing our businesses and marketing our businesses in the sales process of our businesses because these questions that he gives us in this book really help us get actionable answers. If you've watched any of the videos that we've done before, I'm really into things that we can act on instead of just thinking of things in a grandiose way and what-ifs, it's much better when we've got questions or data that we can act on. That's really the purpose of this book. It's to say less, to ask more questions, and change the way that we work and interact with people. Now, there's this question that I see so much in marketing communities, and it's pushed at conferences.

It's the question why. It's a powerful question. Don't get me wrong. I love the question why because it helps us define purpose. Simon Sinek is one of the guys that led the charge on this with Start With Why which is an amazing book. He's got an excellent TED Talk about it too. It gets to the heart of your purpose for doing what you do. Often what I've seen is people just get stuck in why because why can be just really open-ended. There's no end to the answer why. You can keep asking why and go deeper and deeper and deeper in defining this deep purpose. Sometimes it just gets more ambiguous. I've been in conversations where I feel like people are just asking why to seem smarter and it's kind of annoying and frustrating.

Asking why doesn't typically end in an action. What does end in an action and is something that almost every single one of the questions in this book starts with. It is what.

  • What are you doing?
  • What is your product?
  • What is its purpose?
  • What is it intended to do?
  • What are you doing about the challenge that you're facing right now?
  • What have you done?
  • What's the next move?

You see, the difference between why and what is why is open-ended and it goes to purpose which is important, but what gets to the action. It's about now. It's about taking that step and doing something. A lot of times when you ask somebody why you're trying to get more information to fix a problem.

The problem with that is you end up getting in this loop where you're always fixing people's problems. That can be a dangerous place to be. If you start asking what questions, what did you do about it? What could you have done better? What could you have done differently? It gets them to the point where they don't have to sit and ponder very long, but they can think and go, "I could have slowed down. I could have spent more time. I need a product that can meet this need." It's not the why. Why gets to the emotion and the connection point, but what gets to the action. I think as marketers, as business owners, we need to start asking what a whole lot more because the power behind what is action.

Action is what leads to growth. Yes, you need a purpose. Yes, you need to tie your business to something deeper, but the real thing that makes people move is what questions because it forces them to take that step. What are you going to do about it? If you're feeling this pain now, we talk about marketing where we're pushing on pain points, if they're feeling this pain, what's your next move? Not say, "Why would you maybe switch?" That's just open-ended and doesn't lead to anything, but if we want action, we need to start asking what.

  • What is our product for?
  • What is the core components of our business?
  • What is the industry we're in?
  • What are we going to do next?

There's just so many questions that you can get that lead to actionable answers. Starting with what can be extremely powerful. The reason why what questions are so powerful is they don't leave room for interpretation either. It gets right to the point. Sometimes when you ask somebody why, it can honestly seem kind of offensive. Why did you do it that way? It comes across like that. It depends on your tone and your inflection.

Maybe somebody on your team did a project, and it didn't go that well. You can say, "Why did you choose to do it that way?" It forces them to be defensive. It forces them to back into a corner. Instead, if you approach that, "What could you have done differently in that situation?" It allows them to reflect and then it allows them to give you an answer without feeling like you were attacking them. That's another benefit of a what question. Honestly, sometimes, this happens in our marketing where we ask why questions to potential buyers and they end up getting defensive because you're almost coming across as saying, "What you're doing is wrong and let me show you."

That's the worst way to market to somebody but if you say, "Hey, what about this? What could you have done differently? What would you like to see in this product or in this widget?" Those types of questions are way more disarming and allow them to start spinning out actionable thoughts. Now, you want to test those in the market and track it and see if that's really what they want, but at least you're getting something you can move with without offending somebody.

I want to challenge you guys as you start to think about the questions you ask to start asking more what questions to get to actionable advice that you can start to grow and build your business with. Alright, thanks a lot for watching and we'll catch you next time.

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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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