One simple question to transform your business

boy thinking
Boy thinking about a question

What if you could read your customers’ minds? Could you beat your competition, capture your market, or transform your business? Of course you could.

Companies spend millions on market research to get an inside track but there’s a way to gain deep insight that doesn’t cost a penny.

Before you schedule another focus group, consider asking your customers this deceptively simple question the next time you see them:

What’s your biggest problem?

You’ll be amazed by the answers. You’ll hear details about their competitors, changes with their suppliers, an internal reorganization, or a company-wide cost cutting effort—you might even hear about their career or a personal issue.

All from a simple question: What’s you biggest problem?

How would you respond?

I’d be happy that someone cared and would share a thing or two about my biggest problems at the moment, even if I only knew them professionally. And so would you.

Oh! the Humanity

Why are we willing to share? It’s because we’re human; social beings with a need to share our lives with others.

What is business if not people? We’re full of hopes, dreams, worries, joys—the mundane and extraordinary that make the whole of our lives. Our work is a big part of this.

That’s why we open up when asked, What’s your biggest problem? We’re grateful to have someone to connect with, to share our problems, to receive sympathy, or help.

The power of this question to get us to reveal our lives is surprising.

Power Untapped

Even more surprising: we rarely, if ever, ask. When’s the last time you asked a customer to share their biggest problem with you?

When we ask, good things happen. Here are a few.

  • Asking creates connection because you’re letting your customer know you care.
  • When your customer responds they experience the relief of expressing something that’s been on their mind.
  • Talking about problems together, even something minor like staffing needs, builds report.
  • You get a better understanding of your customer’s needs, making it easier to solve their problems, alleviate their pain, create unexpected value, and improve their business (or life).
  • Over time you build a collection of insights into your market’s needs, opportunities, and ways that you can be a source of transformation for your customers.

The Trust Factor

You must be aware of the key determinant to this question’s effectiveness. It’s the trust factor and it works like this:

Your customer will share with you to the degree that they trust you.

If they mistrust you when you ask what their biggest problem is they’ll get defensive. They’ll assume you’re trying to find a way to take advantage.

When your customer trusts you, they share willingly.

The basis for trust is twofold: others must believe you have integrity, meaning you keep your word, and others must believe you have their best interests at heart.

If you’re asking the question and aren’t getting decent answers, you need to consider that your customers may not trust you. A bitter pill, for sure, but don’t despair. You now understand something that no one would willingly tell you and you can immediately get to work fixing it.

A final thought on trust: consider the value of what people are sharing.

Whenever a customer shares something that you can address, especially if it’s something directly related to you or your company, you must address it. To let it go without prioritizing their problem is worse than never asking in the first place.

You can’t fix every problem, but treat every response as valuable, address what you can, and never betray their trust.

Putting it together

Begin by asking your customers, “What’s your biggest problem?” If you don’t ask you’ll never know.

Take note of the answers. Are they honest, deep, meaningful? Great! No? You need to work on building trust.

Build trust by demonstrating your integrity and your commitment to your customer’s well being. Usually, the best place to start is by checking your motives. Prove you care by going the extra mile and doing something for them that won’t benefit you.

Take your customers’ responses seriously. Address issues related to you and your company, but realize that not everything is something you’re responsible for. Sometimes people just want a sympathetic ear.

Over time collect the things customers share. Look for patterns, gaps, and needs. These are opportunities to make their businesses and lives better. Use what you’re learning to improve your products and services, improve the sales experience, and to solve deeper problems for your customers.

That’s it. Start with a simple question and in time you’ll become a much better partner to your customers, leaving your competition behind, leading your market, and transforming your business.

What’s your biggest problem? I’d love to know.