Lurks Inside Stupid Questions

I don’t think anyone really believes that there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

Sure, there are those questions that trigger involuntary eye-rolling in all of us. Maybe they’re questions we’ve heard ten times too many. Maybe they just seem more basic than what the situation calls for. Or maybe they’re just plain dumb.

But when it comes to communicating with prospects, customers, or any of those other stakeholders who are so important to your success, those stupid questions are often a very deep source of wisdom.

In fact, I’m so convinced that stupid questions are so powerful that I regularly ask clients about the questions that drive them crazy. You know the kind. You’re working in the booth at the trade show, and the seventeenth person of the day comes up and asks that question for which the answer is so obvious. Still, you don your best forced trade-show smile and patiently offer the reply you’ve already offered sixteen times.

Or you’re in a sales call, excitedly describing all the new features of your product, and the prospect poses a question that’s so elementary that it stops you in your tracks. It’s like a Ferrari salesperson being asked, “So the purpose of this device is to transport you from one place to the next?”

Plus, stupid questions seem even stupider each time you hear them. That’s why you’ll snap, “If one more idiot asks me that question, I’m going to kill someone!”

But maybe those questions aren’t so stupid after all. Maybe the fact that you’re hearing them again and again suggests that you’re not quite as bright as you think you are. After all, if people keep asking the same stupid questions, the answers must be what they really want to know – and for some reason, you’re not already volunteering that information.

“Maybe the questions you regularly brush off as idiotic represent the very heart of what your message should be.”

Maybe the questions you regularly brush off as idiotic represent the very heart of what your message should be.

Your engineering department is celebrating now that your veeblefetzer has titanium-plated gecko whizbits, but that may not be important to your customers. All they want to know is how effective your veeblefetzer is when it comes to coring radishes. So while your marketing literature waxes poetic about the toughness of titanium, that’s about as helpful to your customer as roller skates would be to a killer whale.

Tell them that coring a radish is as easy as placing it in the gecko cradle and pressing the furshlugginer, and you’ve told them what really matters. Boring? To you, it may be, but you’re not the one who will buy the product.

You know a lot about your product or service. It’s easy to forget that your prospects and customers probably know a lot less about it. Frankly, they probably care a lot less about it, too. When marketers become consumed by the details and differentiators, they lose sight of the basics – and those basics tend to be what matters most to your audience.

Paying attention to stupid questions is one way to bring yourself back down to what really matters. Encouraging those questions is another. By starting conversations at the audience’s level of comfort (and in the audience’s language), you’ll hear what’s really important.

So don’t brush off stupid questions as the playground of the ignorant. Listen closely, especially when you hear the same question again and again. Then weave those important points into your marketing messages.

That way, when your competitors are raving about their drop-forged steel or platinum-enriched gecko whizbits, you’ll be talking about how your customers can core more radishes more precisely and confidently in less time.

And the next stupid question you’ll hear will be from your competitors: “What do they know that we don’t?”