A question that will get you the real story

You open your emails and you are excited that there is indeed an email from a client you were expecting to hear from. The email reads like this,

Dear XX,

Your proposal and ideas were really good but we have selected another company that is more suited to our needs. 

Thank you for your efforts and we look forward to future collaborations with you. 



Despite all your efforts, you have just lost a pitch. Sorry :(

I know, the client’s email is a formality to close the loop and doesn’t reveal to you the real reason behind client’s decision. But you are determined to find out why and you convince the client to meet for a coffee. At the coffee you ask the client, ” Why did you make the decision to choose another company?” Seems logical right?

But this is where you have made a mistake because this question will get you the same answer you had in the email from the client to begin with which is,  the other company was more suited to our needs.

A better question to ask is,

  • Where was it that you decided to work with another company? or
  • When was it that you decided to work with another company?

Here are the reasons why When and Where questions work better than Why questions,

1) When and where questions don’t give people the permission to give their opinions which are mostly useless to drive a change. In a business world we are very comfortable with giving opinions, our opinion filled responses protect us from having to reveal the truth. Remember those statements from clients,

  • “We are better aligned to your competitor’s strategy”.
  • “We really wanted to work with you but our needs are better met by your competitor for now.”

These are not lies by any means but these statements are like thick iron doors that allow you no entry to find the real reasons.These statements don’t reveal much to you. Business professionals are more prepared to answer why questions which also means they can be diplomatic or abstract with their responses. Why questions rescue you from exposure and let you hide behind frankenspeak ( convoluted and confusing speak).

2) When and where questions demand you share a factual incident or a moment which lead to decision making.

For example, if I had asked my client,” When did you decide to choose another company?” The client will have to think back to a certain moment that will have the insight behind the decision made. We are less prepared to answer such questions, so going down the memory lane and stopping at an insightful moment happens naturally. We find people start telling stories which are insightful.

Whenever, I advocate asking when and where questions, I am often asked if a when question is better than a where question. My response is, “They are complimentary.”

You can start with either. If you think about it,  both when and where question try to do exactly the same thing, to take you back to a moment.

So you can ask,

  • When did you decide to work with another company? Or
  • Where were you when you decided to work with another company?

Think of the response to both these questions

  • When did you decide to work with another company?
  • Answer : During last week’s sales meeting
  • Where were you when you decided to work with another company?
  • Answer : In sales meeting 

Irrespective of which question I ask, the answer is, sales meeting.

The next question, I would probably is, What happened in the sales meeting? And mostly, you will get the insight you are looking for in the answer to this question.

In summary, why questions don’t really reveal the why, when and where questions do. They get the real story to the surface and help you make the change you seek to make.

Share this article:Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Why the QR Code? The answer is in the request below we received from a regular blog reader.

"I attended your story telling course some time back. And I've enjoyed keeping up my knowledge with your blog. You may not have realised however, that the Whole of Government is implementing Internet Seperation. Hence I'm not able to access the links to read your articles. Could I suggest including a QR code in your emails so that I can use my mobile to scan it and gain immediate access to the article? It would be most helpful"