09/22/2023

You’re Asking The Wrong Questions

Over the past decade plus, I’ve often heard business leaders ask questions that start with “why aren’t we doing” followed by an action that couldn’t possibly help them achieve their goals. Let’s figure out what questions they should have asked instead. 

A long time ago, in a job now far far away, my boss shared an article he was proud of with our team. As I read through, I immediately caught an issue: he had apparently tried to edit a question, but got lost somewhere half way. The question he ultimately posed in print:

What you can I do?” (sic)

I don’t know if he was trying to ask what can I do, what can you do, or if he was converting the statement what you can do into a question. No matter the case, he was toast.

The team and I immediately set our screen savers to scroll his question across our monitors, updated our desktop backgrounds to his headshot with the quoted question plastered next to it, and just generally refused to stop repeating the question for weeks. He asked the wrong question, and it was too late to correct the error. 

While this was just a silly typo, I’ve heard plenty of other “wrong questions” being asked by businesses over the years that have nothing to do with a missed edit. They’re oftentimes based on an assumed solution and a disconnect between the idea and their business goals. Here are some examples:

Wrong Question: Why Aren’t We Bidding On The Term Lady Gaga?

If you’re leading Lady Gaga’s marketing efforts, this is a super valid question. If you’re working in the home repair space, not so much. 

This question was posed by a client years ago when Lady Gaga was at the absolute pinnacle of her fame. The thought from the client was basically “if everyone’s searching for Lady Gaga, let’s make sure we show up for her name so we can get more customers!”

Here’s the obvious problem with the premise: unless you’re searching for Lady Gaga with the specific intent to find and hire her personal home repair contractors (which these guys were not), it’s really unlikely that you’re going to then see an ad for a hyper local home repair company and think “you know, forget about Lady Gaga –  I could really use their services.”

Right question: What Strategies Can We Employ To Find More Qualified Customers?

I know – this question isn’t any fun at all. But it much more directly relates to the business goal that they were trying to address through the Lady Gaga solution: growing your customer base. 

Wrong Question: How Much Do We Need To Spend On LinkedIn To Get Our Lost Revenue Back?

When revenue starts to decrease, it’s easy to panic. But knee jerk reactions to slowing profits are a recipe for disaster. 

In this case, the question was posed by a company we hadn’t yet worked with. We answered their question with a question of our own: what’s the reason behind the request?

It turned out that the company had seen several straight years of strong growth, followed by a recent 6 month period of stagnation and even decreases, and felt that a LinkedIn campaign was the most reasonable way to reach their target audience and jumpstart their sales. 

Right question: Why Is Our Revenue Down?

This was our next question as we assessed the request and the situation leading up to it. We quickly discovered that immediately before the decrease in revenue, the company had significantly increased their prices and doubled the qualification requirements for their audience. 

We told them we didn’t think LinkedIn was the immediate solution, but that we needed to revisit those changes that immediately tanked their revenue. This wasn’t the question or solution they wanted to look in the face, so they took their business elsewhere.  

Wrong Question: Why Aren’t We On [Insert New Social Media Platform]?

This kind of ties back to the Lady Gaga question. It’s usually posed by someone at a company that doesn’t understand a thing about said platform, but they’ve heard it’s “going crazy.” 

This question could come from a B2B payroll software company trying to leverage Snapchat, a memory care facility trying to buy digital real estate to replicate their clinic in the Metaverse, or maybe they’ve heard the name “TikTok” and just want to check that box. In any case, it’s almost always the wrong question. 

Right question: How Does A Presence on [Insert Social Media Platform] Support Our Business Goals?

I’m not just being a grouchy old man who doesn’t like social media. If there’s a justification for your company to sink time and effort into a social channel (even if it’s just “for fun”), by all means get out there! But spend some time weighing the pros and cons before just jumping in to catch the wave. 

If you ask the question, you may very well discover that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, and your efforts can be better directed into a channel that does more to move the needle. These channels should be supporting your business, not the other way around. 

1 Weird Trick To Asking Better Questions:

You’ve seen a handful of specific examples, but I’m going to let you in on a secret formula to make sure you never become the “wrong question” example again. Take careful notes, now:

Don’t ask questions based on an assumed solution

All 3 of the examples I gave assumed a solution to a problem: Lady Gaga, LinkedIn Ads, and Social Media. You’re putting the cart before the horse and potentially missing a much better, more direct solution by making assumptions. Start broad by looking at your situation, asking how it’s impacting your business goals, and narrow your way down to potential solutions from there. 

Remember: there are no stupid questions, but there are definitely wrong ones.

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