The Surprising Power of Questions

The Surprising Power of Questions - Cricket player

“Top-performing salespeople ask questions differently…”

This is a quote from The Surprising Power of Questions by Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie John, Harvard Business Review May-June 2018.

The quote is based on analysis of call recordings by Gong, a tech company that provides a sales call recording and analysis tool.

The article is packed with research by various groups on the topic of how to ask questions.

Most People Do Not Ask Enough Questions

Most people don’t ask enough questions according to research by Alison Wood Brook.

Steve’s note: My baseline testing reveals most salespeople can ask three questions without making a statement.

Gong, a call recording SaaS firm, recently suggested the most successful sales reps ask 14 questions.

I hear sales recordings in which salespeople ask all 28 questions on The Perfect Discovery Call Checklist.

It is a bit like the 4-minute mile. It’s just a mental barrier, not a real limit.

I recommend adding a question or two each time, so you gradually work your way to mastery.

The Practice of Asking Questions Permanently Raises Your EQ

The Surprising Power of Questions

“…by asking questions, we improve our emotional intelligence, which makes us better questioners – a virtuous cycle.”

Steve’s note: Call coaching, using call recordings, produces this EQ-enhancing effect.

Four Key Factors for Powerful Questioning

“…type, tone, sequence and framing of questions” determine the effectiveness of questioning.

Steve’s notes:

  • In the Software Selling System we ask specific questions in a specific order – because the type and sequence of questions is critical.
  • “Tone” reinforces the idea that style trumps substance. You can only hear your tone, as a third party, if you record your calls.
  • “Framing” includes establishing the reason a salesperson will ask questions and why it is in both party’s best interest. This is accomplished in the Mutual Agenda.

“Out” = Honesty

People are more likely to answer questions honestly if they have an “out.”

Steve’s note: This is why the Mutual Agenda begins with an agreement that NO is OK.

Questions = Likeability

Questioning enables you to manage your impression. Research shows asking more questions makes people more likeable.

Steve’s note: Trust increases as disclosure increases.

questions lead to ideasThe Best Type of Question? (Drum Roll Please!)

Brooks and John conclude that follow up questions are the most powerful type of question. When you ask a question and then follow up, it demonstrates that you are listening, engaged and that you care.

Steve’s note: This is why there are ten questions in the Need Diagnostic process. The real need is often revealed in response to the ninth or tenth question.

The Optimum Sequence of Questions? (Drum Roll Again, Please!)

The optimal sequence of questions is from less sensitive to most sensitive, escalating slowly, if your goal is to build a relationship.

Steve’s note: This is the design behind the four levels of Need Diagnostic questions.


Questions are the primary tool of a sales professional.

How well you master the type, tone, sequence and framing of questions determines your success in sales.