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The Power of Questions


by Paul Myers

Most American and Canadian readers will remember the days when Pizza Hut was the undisputed king of retail pizza. They had stores everywhere. Competing with them was difficult, at best. At worst, it was business-fatal.

They had great food, fancy stores, and good service. And they  had the lock on retail's most prized commodity: Location, location, location.

They had everything you could ask of a pizzeria. (Besides a pool table and a good jukebox, that is.)

Or did they?


Ask the market.

One small company decided to find out. When they actually asked the market, they discovered that Pizza Hut was missing something that was extremely important to a large segment of the market: Home delivery.

This was so widely in demand that the new company developed an entire business plan around that one concept.

The new company could locate their stores anywhere they could put in a phone and an oven, and be up and running within a few weeks. Pizza Hut had to have the best (and most expensive) retail locations, and took 6 months or more to build and open a new outlet.

The new company's startup costs for a franchise were trivial by virtually any business standard, and their overhead was a fraction of a sit-down restaurant's. Their profit per pizza sold was substantially higher because of that.

They could open new stores pretty much at will, and those franchises became profitable in record time. Their growth rate was explosive. They went from startup to market powerhouse faster than you could say "Hot and fresh in 30 minutes or less, or it's free."

The growth of Domino's Pizza was the result of a lot of factors. They slashed real estate costs, development times and operating expenses, while adding so much to per-unit profitability that their competitors couldn't begin to keep pace.

They achieved all of this based on a simple change in perspective: They looked at the customer's definition of the most desirable location, rather than the industry's.

The customer's choice?

Their own front door.


The question.

The thing that allowed them to make a sound decision was one of the simplest and most useful tools in existence: A question.

"What do pizza consumers want that they can't reliably get right now?"

Questions are powerful things, if you ask the right people and actually listen to the answers they give you.

A lot of people do the first well, but are really bad at the second. (You probably know one or two people like that, eh?)

Side note: Many people are willing to pay actual cash money to ignore advice.

Really. They will. They'll pay small amounts to ignore an author, because authors don't know anything anyway. They'll pay big money to ignore a consultant, because consultants are "experts." If they ignore the experts, they must be really smart.

Mustn't they?


Enter Domino's

Domino's did something else that was amazingly powerful, and which I've never seen them credited for in any analysis of their success.

Rob Frankel would call it branding. Jay Abraham calls it pre-emptive positioning. J. Random Consultant would describe it as "presenting a unique selling proposition."

I call it rigging the turf.

They changed the game on the competition. They created a new set of expectations within the market, and designed them in such a way that ONLY Domino's could fulfil those expectations.

This can be used a lot more often, and a lot more successfully, than you might think.

Questions can be powerful things indeed.

Let's start with an example.

In his most recent newsletter, Joe Vitale mentioned that as a result of reading "The Amazing List Machine" he was going to do more surveys.

He asked his subscribers and customers a series of questions, and got not only the topic they wanted to read about, but also the most popular title. He knows what to write that will sell best, and has pretty much guaranteed himself a commercial success before he writes a word.

That's powerful stuff. And all it took was asking the right people (his customers) the right questions (what do you want?) and believing them.

"List Machine" is, itself, a good example of this process. Long time subscribers may remember that I did a survey a while back on which of 12 different topics were most important to you. The top two were "Getting a lot of subscribers, fast," and "Building a list of qualified 

A book that answered both seemed like a good bet.

Here's an interesting exercise for you.

Think about a time when someone asked you a question, and your response was "Ya know, I never thought about it that way!"

Remember how it felt to have a whole new view of things? How much clearer things seemed? The new options that appeared as soon as you expanded your view of the situation?

I call that an "Ah ha! moment."

You're going to learn to create your own. On demand.

This is a big subject, so we're not going to cover it all in one issue. We'll start by looking at some specific questions you can ask yourself to get a quick appreciation of the power behind adding to your


Grab a notebook, or open a text or Word document, and answer each of these for your personal situation. Play with the questions. Come up with your own.

Take notes of the answers to all of them.

Do this as described and I can almost guarantee you'll come up with one or more breakthrough ideas that can mean a lot to your business's bottom line.

And that's before we get into the advanced stuff. ;)

Ask yourself:

"What business am I in?"

Years ago, the railroad companies decided they were in the railroad business. (Kind of an obvious assumption, right?)

Had they decided they were in the business of providing transportation and freight delivery, absolutely nothing could have stopped them from controlling the truck, bus and airline industries as they grew.

That's a powerful distinction.

So, what business are you in?

"Who is my REAL prospect?"

FedEx grew to major international status when they realised that the person who made the buying decision was the secretary - NOT the boss.

Their ads were keyed to showing the hapless employee a way to keep from getting reamed for the failure of their overnight delivery service.

Who makes the buying decision for your product?

Who influences that decision?

"What would it take for a competitor to crush us?"

What would have to happen for a competitor to flatten your sales like a Windows computer running bad shareware?

Make a list.

How many of those things could you use to increase YOUR market share?

"Who can I help in the process who would help me in return?"

Who does your product or service affect, even peripherally? Is there a way you can make their life easier that would be enough to motivate them to make you their preferred/recommended vendor?

Who's in the same supply circle?

What do they want? Can you help them get it by changing the way you deliver your product or service?

"Can we turn this expense into a revenue stream?"

Not-So-Subtle plug: If you've read "List Machine", you already know what I mean. ;)

How can you take a given process, such as prospecting, and turn it into a profit center?

Can you, for example, convert a portion of your best informed salespeople into paid consultants, whose job is to find the best solution for the prospective client, even if it doesn't happen to be yours?

Would charging a fee for some of that info you give away freely help you to sort your prospects into the serious and non-serious, while cutting your cold-calling dramatically?

What do you do that could be turned into another income 

"What would happen if I ignored this?"

A lot of worry happens over things that are meaningless.

Answer the question honestly, and see if you don't free up a lot of time for things that really count.

"What could I do to expand on this?"

If something is already working, how can you get more mileage from it?

Can you drive more people through the process? Increase the average sale? Provide more benefits with a back end offer? Improve customer retention?

What can you do more of that's already working?

"Can I replace this, rather than reducing it?"

If something is too expensive, but has to be done, perhaps you should consider a replacement. Cost-cutting by cutting quality isn't often a good idea.

Is there a different way to accomplish the same thing?

"How else can I look at this?"

Turn the situation around. Look at it from different perspectives.

Examine every part of the process you want to improve, and ask questions from ways you may not have previously.

This one will take a few minutes to grasp, but keep at it. It's one of the best exercises for finding new approaches to old activities.

"What's the best focus?"

Look at things very close up. Examine every tiny detail. How can each tiny part be easily improved?

Small improvements can add up to huge gains, if you find enough of them.

On the flip side, step back a bit. Take a broader view. Pretend the business belongs to someone else, and ask what you'd tell them to do to improve things.

This last is scarily effective if you actually put some effort into it.

"Who do I know that...?"

"... had the same problem and solved it?" "... bombed badly at what I'm considering?" "... is in a similar situation and never had this problem?"

"Who do I know that..." questions can be used in virtually any situation. Once you start asking these sorts of questions, answers often begin popping up faster than you can write them down.

The follow-up is simply to call them up and ask (or offer to pay) for help.

One of the best is "Who do I know that I could brainstorm with on this?"

"What *really* caused this?"

Honest answers to this can mean enormous gains and solutions to major problems at the same time.

"What would make this thing take off like a rocket?"

Obvious question. When was the last time you asked it?

Let your imagination run on this one. Play with it. Having fun often releases levels of creativity that you never knew you had.

This is just a smattering of the possible questions that can lead to breakthroughs in how you view your business activities. I'll include more in a future issue.

If you come up with one of your own that you think would be helpful, email it to me and I'll include it in the list. Send them to mailto:[email protected]?subject=UsefulQuestions

If you just read this and didn't do the exercises, this will look like a lot of useless fluff. If you do them, you'll see just how powerful this approach can be.

Make up your own questions. Play with the answers.

I think you'll be amazed at what you have never thought of that was just waiting for permission to come up.

Next issue: The single most effective way to beat 
"Shoemaker's Kids Syndrome."

A lot of us can use that one, eh? ;)



Paul Myers is the Publisher of the valuable TalkBiz News newsletter, an outspoken, irreverent dose of common sense for business. Subscription is free.


He is also the author of "The Amazing List Machine", perhaps the best (e-)text on how to rapidly grow a large and responsive mailing list.

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