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Are You Asking Bad Questions?

Let’s face it, you probably have some questions about that title. But wait, weren’t we all told there is no such thing as a bad question? In the case of talking about your idea with allies and potential customers, there are some types you should be avoiding to get more accurate data and honest opinions.

What are we trying to avoid by asking more thoughtful questions? The answer can be many things. We should strive to keep our friends, family, and peers from giving us white lies or empty compliments that build false confidence in our ideas. It’s happened to entrepreneurs time and time again. They get swept up by all the good things that they’re hearing, not realizing that people don’t have an overwhelming need for their product. They put their blood, sweat, tears, (and cash) into making their product a reality, finding little fanfare and customers after all their hard work. Let’s learn how to take precautions and avoid this path!

“So, do you think it’s a good idea?” What would be your quickfire response to this if a coworker was sharing their business idea? Us pleasant Midwesterners are keen to be friendly and agree to avoid hurting others’ feelings. Your coworker would respond “Yeah! That’s a cool idea.”- but do they actually mean it? In your conversation did you ask any questions about if they personally related to the problem your product or service solves, or are they just being your pleasant next-cube-over neighbor?

Rob Fitzpatrick, entrepreneur and author of The Mom Test, tells us how to really dig in and avoid only receiving opinions. He provides the example that you’re building an app for construction engineers to manage suppliers. “Ask them to show you how they currently do it. Talk about which parts they love and hate.” Finding out your target market’s pain points is a great way to see where your product or service can fill a hole. Rob adds, “Ask which other tools and processes they have tried before settling on this one. Are they actively searching for a replacement tool?” Questions like this give you the tools to learn more about competitors and if they would be interested in switching to your product if it solved their current problems.

We also should try to avoid asking leading questions that prompt our respondent in a certain way. “What problems do you have with xyz?” will lead the person you’re asking to more likely put on a negative lens. They immediately think of the bad over the good. Leading questions like this are undesirable as they tend to get slanted or even false answers. A better way to gather the data you’re looking for would be to ask something like “How do you feel about xyz?” or “Can you tell me about your experience with xyz?” You’ll get more genuine answers this way.

Another obstacle to avoid is getting vague answers. Let’s say you sit down with an old friend to chat about their work woes. You know your pal hates to complain and will not want to bore you with the daily issues they have. They keep it short and sweet, and you don’t mind it in most instances, but it’s not what you need while trying to validate. You should try to get deeper with your prospective customers; learn how your product or service would affect their life! Ask them “how often do you use xyz?” or “how did you find out about xyz?”. These types of questions let you get at the meat of the classic who, what, where, when, why, and how of your potential customer and their problems. You may remember those “Five Ws and One H” from writing classes you took in school. And you always thought you wouldn’t use anything you learned back then in your real life! Let them paint you a picture of their experiences and see how you in turn can overcome obstacles with your product or service. 

If possible, Rob Fitzpatrick recommends having customers “show, not tell”. Roll up your sleeves and get in the action! Go to the heart of the problem and observe your potential customers’ problems in their natural environment. “Seeing it first hand provides unique insight into murky situations,” Rob states. You’ll be seeing the experience with your own eyes while being able to ask questions along the way. You may even have the possibility to get hands-on yourself. Seeing is believing, and this way you will see all inefficiencies, not just ones your customer sees. 

Most importantly when you’re trying to ask questions to validate your idea, be ready to listen. We’ve been there, you get excited and blab a whole pitch of why your idea rocks. All of a sudden, you catch your breath and realize you didn’t ask any questions or leave room for gaining much feedback. Oops! Remember, you’re here to gather information, not dump it on your potential customer. Ask those thoughtful questions and be ready to let them dump every bit of information they have to share. Even the tiniest bit of information could be pivotal in how you go about your business.

When you utilize good questions, you can crack into the honest and factual feedback from your allies and potential clients. Keep your ears perked and ready to hear the truth, whether it be what you wanted to hear or the complete opposite. With that data you’re able to validate your idea, improve your business to better suit their needs, and more.

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