Are You Asking The Right Question?

This is a short tale of two focus groups. My goal is to show you how changing one word when asking a question can get you exactly what you’re looking for.

ABC Corporation sells laundry detergent. Sales were flat so they wanted to find out what was going on with their customers. Specifically, how could ABC improve their laundry detergent? So, they conducted a focus group with customers who used their product. The focus group moderator was selected from the company’s marketing department. This person had never conducted a focus group before.

This moderator asked the twelve people sitting around the conference table, 
“What do you need in terms of laundry detergent?” Blank stares filled
 the room. The participants were speechless. One participant asked, “I don’t know what I need”. Another said, “I need my clothes to be clean”. After going in circles, the group was unable to articulate any concrete need. The leader got frustrated and terminated the group after thirty minutes, without any suggestions. What a bust.

Another company, XYZ Corporation also sold laundry detergent and conducted a focus group with customers to find out how the corporation could improve its product. Same goal as ABC Corporation. This time the corporation hired a trained and experienced focus group facilitator. This facilitator asked the right question to group members.

“What problems are you having with your current laundry detergent?”

The answers came rolling off everyone’s tongues.

  • “I hate it when the liquid drips down the side of the bottle.”
  • “I can’t seem to figure out how to use the scoop.”
  • 
“The directions are written too small”. 

  • “The bottle is too heavy.”
  • “The handle is too small.”
  • “I don’t know if I’m getting my money’s worth.”


The marketing department was impressed with the useful information provided by just twelve people. The facilitator presented her report to XYZ’s Product Development team. They conducted more groups and got more useful information about customer problems.

People can easily articulate their problem but struggle to express their needs. The more you know about your customers’ problems, the more successful you’ll be.

Taken from Critical Connections – The Step-By-Step Guide to Transform Your Business Through Referral Marketing