How to Ask Strategic Questions versus Operational Questions

Over the years, we’ve sat in on or put together hundreds of advisory boards, and like anything else, some are more successful than others.

The ones that succeeded all did so for different reasons, whether it was the insights and ideas they yielded or the lifelong advocates they created. The unsuccessful ones were unsuccessful for one reason: the advisors weren’t asked the right questions.

So what are the right questions to ask? We would argue that the more strategic you can keep the dialogue, the more success you’ll have.

Why? Because as soon as you move from the strategic to the operational, you’re essentially taking your advisors out of their element. They’re not there to tell you how to run your business. They’re there to get you thinking about things you may not have thought about so you can run a better business.

Think of your advisors as the keepers of the view from 20,000 feet. You shouldn’t be wasting their time with the day-to-day operation of your business like distribution, price or granular marketing. Instead, you should be getting them to weigh in on more high-level issues like overall message, the relationship between your company and your customers, and the way your product or service is perceived by the people who use them.

The problem most companies have when it comes to strategic versus operational is that it’s far easier to solicit operational advice. You could probably sit down and come up with a hundred operational questions in an hour. But you’d be wasting valuable time because your company is full of people who can answer these questions. What you don’t have at your disposal is the strategic expertise of doctors, nurses and pharmacists who interact with patients on a daily basis. And that’s what you should be using to your advantage.

Here’s one example of the same issue approached strategically and operationally:

Strategic — In your experience, what are the most important issues related to the care of patients with Hepatitis B?

Operational — What can we do to better reach doctors who treat Hepatitis B patients?

The first question is asking for a high-level opinion based on individual experience. The insights you’ll get will be as varied as the members of your board and you can use these insights to formulate plans.

The second question is asking for a plan itself. And unless your advisor has a background in marketing or planning, you’ll get either a standard answer you already thought of, or worse, you’ll get an “I don’t know” ⎯ because why would they know?

Here’s another example:

Strategic — What do caregivers of newly diagnosed type II diabetes patients need to know?

Operational — How often should we be reaching out to caregivers of newly diagnosed type II diabetes patients?

By limiting your questions to issues of experience versus plans of attack, you’ll get a much wider range of answers, and most of the time the answer to your operational question will be plain as day. But if you lead with the operational question, you won’t get to the heart of what you brought your advisors together for in the first place: an expert opinion based on field experience.

It’s a fine line to walk, but staying strategic will make your advisory boards so much more successful in the long run. And planning out your strategic questions in a Longitudinal Expert Engagement Plan will make the entire process easier because you’ll be able to smartly plan the release of those questions and any relevant information your advisors will need to give informed answers.

The leaders at Impetus can help you formulate your strategic questions, and show you how to best plot them out. They’ve been doing it for almost two decades.