Organizational Technologies Dorothy Leeds

About Dorothy
Books & Tapes
Contact Dorothy


By Dorothy Leeds

Wouldn’t you like a sure fire way to get your doctors talking to you, sharing information not shared with other reps, telling you things you never knew about his practice, prescribing habits, concerns, real feelings and thinking you are the smartest rep he knows?

Of course the answer is “Yes!” As the Questioning Crusader I am always seeking more and better questions, always asking myself the question, “How I can and all the pharmaceutical reps I work with become Super Questioners. One amazing fact I have learned about questions that if you ask yourself a question long enough and persistently patiently enough, eventually the answer will appear. So I posed these questions to myself: Is there a better way to probe than the oft-cited and loudly-praised open ended question — the how, what, and why? Is there a better type of open ended question? Could there be a way to word an open ended question to get a better response? I began observing myself and the kind of questions that got the most detailed specific response. They were not questions like, “How did you do that?” but questions that used more specific descriptive words, like “Please analyze for me the steps you took in making that decision,”* questions that started in a more specific, interesting way. That word “analyze” made all the difference (I will share why this works in just a moment). I decided to call these questions “Super Probes” and began doing serious research on why they work and how to help all my clients and their sales teams become Super Probers.


A Super Probe is a question that is better than the usual open ended question and is more descriptive encouraging the responder to give a better answer. Super Probes are questions that use words like analyze for me, describe, translate, specify, clarify, examine with me, explain — the choices are virtually endless. A Thesaurus is a fine place to find a whole lot more. Generally the purpose of a Super Probe is to get your doctors to think more, and to think differently. And as I share in great detail in my book, The 7 Powers of Questions, thinking is what precedes changes in behavior - and in your case, changing the way your doctors are prescribing your drugs. They have to think differently if they are going to prescribe differently.

Why are super probes important?

The biggest challenge for all pharmaceutical reps and managers is to effectively train sales teams to deal with the intense competition — those 90,000 reps who are out there doing the same thing you are, to get their doctors to prescribe their drugs.

Most pharmaceutical reps are told to ask open ended questions and that is good advice. In most situations, open ended questions are preferable to closed ended questions. Now I do not want to completely knock closed ended questions. If we are to succeed in selling we must ask those commitment-seeking closed ended questions, like “Will you read the article I’m leaving with you before my next visit?” “Have I made a convincing case on the advantages of my drug over the competitor’s?” We have to ask these questions - not aggressively but with confidence - in order to discover the obstacles to the doctor prescribing our drug. That being said, we ask way too many of them. My research show that for every open ended question the average pharmaceutical rep asks, he or she asks more than 39 closed ended ones.

Why “who,” “what,” and “why” don’t work so well

For starters, everyone uses them. When you ask for a definition of an open ended question, most people say they are questions that start with who, what, and why. Not everyone knows that answer, however. Once, during a program I was doing for the IRS, I asked, “How would you define an open ended question?” A man in the back of the room raised his hand, and when I called on him, he said, “An open ended question is one where you are facing the person.” Then he added, “And a closed ended question is one where you’re turned away.” It was difficult not to laugh.

  • If you are a Super Prober you will definitely stand out from your competitors. When most reps ask an open ended question (which is not too frequent), they use how, what, and why. Therefore, doctors, when they do hear an open ended question, hear the same thing over and over again from every rep. If you want to be different, and get attention and recognition from your doctor, super probes are the way to go.
  • How, what, and why do not give you specific information; these interrogatives are general by nature. Think of the difference between,”How did you make that decision?” and “Please outline for me the specific steps you took to make that decision?”* Think about the difference between these two questions if asked to a politician, and how difficult it would be for her to avoid that question or answer with the usual evasive generalities.
  • How, what, and why do not paint pictures in the responders/doctors’ minds. English is a pictorial language. When you paint a picture with your question you are bound to get a more descriptive response. For example, “In thinking about patient X, in your experience, please detail your choice for treatment?”
  • How, what, and why are not as interesting, nor are they as thought provoking. Try asking, “Doctor, in your estimation, why do you think more thought leaders are recommending_____?” It’s really hard for a doctor to give a stock answer to a really good Super Probe. As you know so well, a stock answer does you no good whatsoever.
  • You appear smart. Doctors really appreciate and respect smart people. Smart reps ask smart questions. By taking more time to think of more interesting and thought provoking questions you will gain greater credibility. The better the questions, the better the connection.

Right Brain Left Brain

As you question your doctors, you want to help them use both the analytical side of the brain (left) and the emotional (right). Reps often forget that their doctors, like everyone else, want to know the facts but they make their decisions emotionally. This is why we have both Features and Benefits as we talking about our products and services. The beauty of a Super Probe is that by just changing the opening words of your questions you can control whether your doctor is thinking or feeling. When you use Super Probes like analyze or specify, you are encouraging your doctors to be in the left brain, while using words like “describe your feelings when you saw the results with your patient” will definitely evoke an emotional picture.

We probe to get information in order to understand your doctor, his/her concerns, thinking habits, real feelings about you, your company and your drug, his/her preferences and why they are preferences. Probing is not successful if you don’t learn something new, if you haven’t delved deeper into issues, if you haven’t moved the sale to another level.


In my book, The 7 Powers of Questions, I discuss each of the Powers. The first power, Questions Demand Answers, is the one on which all the others are based. We have all been programmed to answer questions. This programming starts when we are very small. If we don’t answer a question our parents, siblings, or teachers will say something like, “It‘s rude not to answer a question—don’t you know you’re supposed to answer a question.” In school all of this is reinforced; we don’t get out of school if we don’t answer questions. To graduate we must pass tests and all tests are made up of questions. This is pretty powerful programming. I call this the answering reflex and we all have it. Someone asks and we answer instantly.

Because people are programmed to answer questions, the better, more specific, and more descriptive your questions, the better the answer you will get. Why waste a question that can give you so much helpful information and build strong relationships with a closed ended “yes” or “no.”

An added perk of Super Probes is that they give you control. Actually the questioner is always the person in control while communicating. This is why our presidents prepare three times more for their press conferences than for their speeches. By asking Super Probes you will gain control but in a most positive manner. Aggressively asked closed end questions or even open ended questions like, “Doctor why did you do that?” will only give you defensive answers.

Better to ask, “Doctor, because I know you always have logical reasons for your decisions, could you share your reasons for the action you took?”

And best of all a Super Probe is a win-win for both you and your doctor. A key criteria for a Smart Question is that it provide benefits to both the asker and the responder.

I hope by now you are sold on this wonderful tool we all have but use so little—The Super Probe.

I’m sure you would like me to provide you with twenty or forty Super Probes that would be perfect and work in every situation. I wish I could, but you all know that each doctor is different and each situation is different so it stands to reason that each Super Probe must be different.

However, I don’t want to completely disappoint you. If you go back through this article you will find at least 5 Super Probes and here are a few more.

  • Please walk me through the steps you take in making a prescribing decision.*
  • Could you analyze in greater detail the ramifications of this new research/study?**
  • Help me visualize the scope of the project you are planning.
  • In reading the article I left you, which specific points make the best case for prescribing my drug?
  • If you were to coach me to be more effective in convincing you of the benefits of _______, what would be the three main aspects for me to work on?
  • Doctor, could you list for me the main points that could potentially change your feelings about ______________?

By now you have a sense of Super Probes. If you slow down, stop, and think, you can become a Super Prober and you will reap the rewards. The best salespeople in the world use these kinds of questions to excel at their craft. You are off to a good start –the rest is up to you, your creativity, your discipline, and your motivation.

Although Gertrude Stein said a rose is a rose is a rose, a question is a question is not a question. All questions are not alike. Average questions get average results. Super Probes, the super heroes of questions, will help you succeed and get all the wonderful rewards that are awaiting the best of the best.

How to become a Super Rep??? The answer, of course, is Ask Super Probes.

* Implied question.

**Although some people consider these “could you” questions closed-ended, they almost always give you open-ended answers.


  Dorothy Leeds
  800 West End Ave.
  New York, NY   10025
  212.932.8364 (FAX)

Workshops | Coaching | Keynotes | Articles | Books & Tapes
About Dorothy | Contact Dorothy | Home

Copyright © 2006   Dorothy Leeds Organizational Technologies