Posted by: magnussonllc | April 8, 2010

The 7 Deadly Sins of Questioning

Service professionals basically have two responsibilities; gather customer information and use this information to create winning customer solutions. The reason we sometimes fall short during a customer needs assessment is that there is confusion between input and output. “What” we ask and “how” we ask it are critical for discovering and developing needs. The first thing we have to do is analyze what we currently do that does not work.










The Non-question

About 20 % of questions that we ask a client are non-questions. Sometimes we are more focused on expressing our opinions and observations than asking questions. Observations are output and output doesn’t give us any input. It often derails the conversation.

Double-barreled question

Double-barreled questions are two questions asked at the same time. We are not asking two questions, we are replacing the first question with the second one. Doing this gives the customer the opportunity to choose the question that they find easier to answer. In most situations we actually want the first question answered but often added the second one. Because of pure excitement, a badly formulated first question, or simply lack of strategy. The problem remains, we leave it up to the customer to pick a barrel.

Overloaded Question

Think of questions like a pizza. In Italy, a country synonymous with pizzas, only a few ingredients, mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce and some parmesan cheese are baked on the dough. The same goes with questions. Don’t include too many details in a question. In an Overloaded Question the different ingredients compete with each other for the attention of the person answering it.

Charged Wording

Charged words can be very dangerous. You never know when they will backfire. These words sometimes lead to reactions by the client that will undermine the purpose of your discussion. When you use charged words you risk getting an emotional reaction that could radically decrease the customer’s willingness to continue the discussion.


In our daily speech we use exaggerations: “I have a thousand things to do today”.These exaggerations are great for creating drama. However, when we want input from a client they don’t help. If we exaggerate too much in one direction, the client often tries to under exaggerate in the other direction. The answers we get will be non-authentic.

Closed-ended Questions

Asking open-ended questions is the way to get the client to open up and share information about their business and what’s important to them. There is no right or wrong answer – it is exposing their view. Good open-ended questions also direct and expand our client’s perspectives, getting them to think about issues they might not yet have considered. Closed-ended questions do the complete opposite. Their narrow focus implies that the service professional believes that there is only one truthful and obvious answer. Closed-ended questions in a needs analysis provides only extremely limited information.

Personal Comments

Often questions get sabotaged as soon as we include our expectations about the “right” answer. If the question doesn’t require you to include personal comments, avoid it. Questions are not a tool to tell the client what we know—they are a tool to determine the things we don’t know.



  1. I love your blog!
    I actually read this with a smile on my face. I’m thinking about my father and his discussions with our customers. 🙂
    Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks Gee, I appreciate the feedback.

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