Editor’s note: Paul Kirch is CEO of Actus Sales Intelligence, a Fort Worth, Texas, business and sales consulting agency, and Actus-360, a technology services provider. He can be reached at 214-295-6111 or at pkirch@actussales.com.

Searching for answers is easier today than ever before. You can pull out your phone or tablet and find answers to most questions. What does this mean for sales professionals or people in leadership positions? It is time to stop focusing on answers and instead put more energy into asking the right questions.

On my business talk show, BOSS Academy Radio, I interviewed John Sculley, former CEO of Apple and PepsiCo. Sculley recently published a book Moonshot!, a real-world look at the opportunity to build transformative, billion-dollar businesses. Sculley has a diverse background, including post-graduate experience as an analyst and as a consumer marketing research professional. What I found particularly exciting was his perspective on how the marketing research industry has an opportunity to play a huge role in the future of business. It was refreshing to see someone in his position take such a stance. While he may have some bias, his thought process is grounded in the fact that data is the driver behind much of MR’s explosive potential. As he says, getting answers is easy but asking better questions is what will help companies learn to connect with consumers in ways that were impossible in the past.

What questions are you asking in your own business? Are you doing your research and getting creative? Or are you taking a path of least resistance? If your sales team can ask a critical question that makes others stop and think, you may be able to stand out. Often the questions asked by salespeople can be found with a simple search or glance at the prospect’s Web site. I often receive calls asking for my business and sometimes it is obvious the person on the other end of the phone hasn’t bothered to look me up.

I recently received an e-mail solicitation from a firm’s business development associate. While I have been in the research industry for years, I have not been in a research-buying capacity for much of that time. The e-mail inquiry I received came from a fairly well-known research supplier. I receive inquiries from this firm on a bi-monthly or quarterly basis asking me to choose them as my research supplier. Inevitably, the contact fails to do any research on me prior to reaching out. In almost every instance I respond that if they come back to me with a reason for us to talk, I will schedule time. In five years, I’ve probably received 30 inquiries from that same company asking the same lazy questions. Only one person responded to my request, apologizing for not doing his homework and letting me know that the firm had a reporting tool which might be of interest to me. It was a smart response and it wasn’t far from a realistic approach.

With only one response back, I began to wonder: What questions is the firm asking its staff? Is the internal approach lazy, leading to a lack of external commitment? During the most recent e-mail exchange, I took a different approach. I replied saying that I’d love to set up time to talk with their team to discuss how I can help them create a different sales approach.

As Sculley points out, the way we conduct business is morphing and the opportunities to connect with buyers are changing rapidly. Through big data and other sources of information, we can connect with and understand buyers in new and exciting ways. In fact, Sculley contends that we’re now in an era of consumer-in-control buying. This means that we should be focused less on the competition’s message and more on our own approach to connecting with buyers. The example of the solicitation e-mail I gave above is a clear case of a company that is not speaking to its potential consumers. At least it isn’t speaking to me, directly. While the e-mail was addressed to me, it was a canned communication piece that did little to address me on a personal level.

In a world where answers are available, we can’t afford to ask lazy questions. With consumers in control of buying, we must get personal. Today, you can learn more about a prospect in a five-minute Google search than you could have 15 years ago with a team of researchers digging all day for answers. But don’t stop asking questions just because answers are easy to find. Instead, focus on asking better-quality questions, personalized for the recipient.

If you’d like to learn more or listen to the John Sculley interview, please feel free to reach out to me at pkirch@actussales.com