Asking the Right Questions

I just got out of a meeting with the CEO at a client where the meeting began by him asking me the question “What technology is out there that can help my business?”

We spent a lot of time discussing various different technologies and how they might be appropriate — enhancements to his accounting & ERP software, VOIP, implementing a fax server, having his sales & marketing team make social networking a bigger percentage of their effort, expanding their online sales capabilities and presence, etc.

However, we didn’t really get to the meat of the conversation until we re-phrased the initial question.  The challenge with many business owners today is that when it comes to technology, they tend to ask the wrong questions.  Asking about available technologies might be elicit some “interesting” answers and maybe even some “productive” answers, but it’s not the best way to get at what the owner really wants.

A better question is — “What does my business need to meet its goals and how can technology help?”  When you phrase the question this way, it forces you to consider the business first instead of technology first.

What does the business need?  Cut costs?  Great…let’s talk about two things — is there a way to cut technology costs?  And…is there a way that investing in technology can help you cut other costs?

What does the business need?  Increase sales?  Great…how can technology help your sales team increase sales?  What tools are available to help marketing generate more leads?

What does the business need?  Improve customer service?  Great…how can technology help improve customer service?  What tools are available to help customer service staff provider a higher level of service to customers and give them the ability to stay more in touch?

What does the business need?  Reduce inventory turns?  Great…how can the ERP software be redesigned or engineered to provide better inventory visibility to help ensure that the right quantities of the right products are purchased at the right time?

Contrary to the approach of many technologists, the issue is not with the technology.  The issue is asking the right questions.