“Just ask them what keeps them up at night and fix it.”

Years ago I sat in an executive off-site meeting; one of those multi-day, lengthy agenda, “why are we really here” kind of meetings many companies have when things aren’t going as well as they should and the obvious reason (poor planning and execution) isn’t addressed. We were featuring the marketplace to death with no recognizable benefit, but no one wanted to talk about that…the reality would have required company changing action.

A solution was offered by Engineering that we simply needed to ask all prospective customers what problem they had and then simply solve it. “Just ask them (prospective clients) what keeps them up at night and fix it. That’s all you have to do.”

I looked around the room and found agreement with Operations, HR, and Finance – all groups that aren´t responsible for selling anything, let alone something in a complex sale. I stared into the eyes of Marketing and after a couple of uncomfortable moments he just looked down at his notebook – silent.

The smart-alecky side of me surfaced as I asked Engineering to repeat the suggestion; I wanted to take a note. He was half way through the idea when he realized I was mocking him. "Why don´t we just ask them if they want it delivered Tuesday or Wednesday? Or maybe we should ask if they prefer red or blue?"??

Not a professional move on my behalf, but one brought on by frustration.

Asking a client what problems they have sounds good on the surface, but in my experience it rarely nets a sale. Mike McLaughlin of Guerrilla Consulting gives you some great reasons why in his post titled The Myth of Client Pain. Mike makes some great and succinct points all persons involved in selling and business should heed.

If you’re a business owner or purchaser of products and services, how do you feel about being asked the question of “What keeps you up at night?” Do you feel that question helps you or does it prove the person asking the question doesn’t understand your business?

If you’re involved in sales, do ask questions like “What keeps you up at night?” and if so, do you believe it helps your sales success?