Stupid questions contain brilliant marketing insight

Many people will tell you there’s no such thing as a stupid question. Yes, there are questions that trigger involuntary eye-rolling. Sometimes they’re questions we’ve heard ten times too often. Sometimes they’re just plain dumb.

But when it comes to communicating with prospects and customers, stupid questions are often a remarkably deep source of wisdom.

That’s why I regularly ask clients about the questions that drive them crazy. You know the kind. You’re working at the trade show, and the seventeenth person of the day comes up and asks that question for which the answer is obvious. So you don your best forced trade-show smile and grit your teeth as you offer the reply you’ve already offered sixteen times.

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

But maybe those questions really aren’t so stupid. Maybe you’re hearing them again and again because you’re not quite as bright as you think. If people keep asking the same stupid questions, the answers must be what they really want to know – and you’re not sharing that information. In fact, the questions you regularly brush off as idiotic may represent the very heart of what your message should be.

Your engineering department is proud that your veeblefetzer has titanium-plated gecko whizbits, but that may not be important to your customers. They just want to know how effective your veeblefetzer is when it comes to coring radishes. So while your website drives home the toughness of titanium, it’s about as helpful to your customer as roller skates would be to an orca.

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? You may think so, but you’re not the one buying the product.

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

Paying attention to stupid questions can help you see what really matters. So don’t brush them off as the playground of the ignorant. Listen closely, especially when you hear the same question again and again. Then weave the answers into your marketing messages.

That way, when your competitors rave about their drop-forged steel or platinum-enriched gecko whizbits, you’ll talk 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 the competitors: “What do they know that we don’t?”

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