In business, we all, at some stage, have to uncover our customers' needs or requirements by engaging them in a "fact-find" or conversation to highlight their "wish-list". And I'm sure that we have all been advised to ask "Open" questions designed to provoke more thought and provide more detail when answering that question.

You will all be aware of the now (almost TOO famous) quote from Rudyard Kipling when he said:

"I keep six honest serving men, They taught me all I knew; Their names are What and Why and When, And How and Where and Who.."

The premise of beginning any question with any of these words is that the responder will a) think about their response and b) give a detailed answer as a result

Sometimes, this may be true. More often than not, it simply isn't.

I like to think of an open question, when looking to uncover business needs, as one that inherently implies: "Talk to me lots about..." - one that leaves no doubt as to the intention of the question.

For example, think of the teenager arriving home from school and asked the "open question" of "How was school?" In your experience, what will be the reply?

Now consider a similar question framed, positioned and delivered more appropriately.

Firstly, waiting until the question can be asked when both the parent and the teenager are not distracted by anything other than the question will help.

Secondly, making time to shut up and REALLY listen to the answer will indicate that the INTENTION of the question is to really be interested in a slightly more detailed answer.

And thirdly, asked with empathy will imply "Talk to me lots about..."

"Tell me about some of the things that you've been doing at school recently, I'd really like to know how things have been for you".

Compared to "How was school?" I believe you will receive a much fuller and open response.

So, in business, it pays to think about real "talk to me lots" questions, how they are framed and delivered, to really engage your customer.

"Talk to me about the reasons why you initially set up your business and what your goals & aspirations are for the next 12 months"

You will find that, customers being customers, you may struggle to get a word in edgeways!

So, thank you Mr Kipling, we hear what you say about your "honest servants".

However, there is more to it than making sure your first word of your question begins with a "W" or an "H".

Article by Nick Gilroy of Sail Away Coaching.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

NBSL LogoThis article is brought to you by NBSL's North East Business Support Fund which funds the costs of business improvement projects such as website development, marketing strategies, external consultancy – click here to find out more

The North East Business Support Fund  has hundreds of registered providers offering a wide range of business support. NBSL has used its best efforts to post on this web site the most accurate and reliable information given to us by our providers but does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any information. The thoughts and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and are licensed to NBSL for publication on this website.


Register your business as an NBSL provider and stay up to date with the latest funding information.

If you provide business support services like marketing, business planning, human resources or financial planning find out how you could register with us to offer a grant of up to £3200 to your clients for work that you do for them.

Find out more

Our Support

From start up to growth.

Our unique support programmes can provide help no matter what stage your business is at.