Read an Excerpt
Why Asking “Why?” Will Work for You
ASKING “WHY” IS THE FIRST step in my approach to consulting with a business executive, coaching a sales or marketing team, finding out what’s working and what isn’t in any organization, and helping any company achieve its goals.
Asking why is also a good way to begin this book, starting with our title. Let’s begin with that promise. Why is this book going to help solve your business problems and break out in a competitive marketplace?
First, let’s be clear that by breaking out we don’t mean just getting ahead and leading the pack. No, indeed. What we want to achieve is leaving the entire pack of competitors in the dust, far behind.
That’s our goal here: to elevate your business performance and presence so that you are the best and only choice for your product and services — regardless of your geographic footprint, vertical, or target markets. This book is intended to help you and your organization reach the point of truly “breaking out in a competitive marketplace.”
If you ask “why,” then ask again, and then again, you can discover the truth about solving any problem in business. This works for every aspect of your company, from building a team to product development to sales and customer retention.
You already have plenty of questions, I’m sure. You’ve bought this book with a goal in mind, and have a list of your own. But let’s begin with a few suggestions so you that can get an idea of how to organize the Power of Why and move forward with each new question building on the answers you’re receiving.
How can I break out in a competitive marketplace?
Here are three questions we can begin with and some typical answers I’ve heard:
1. Why are your customers buying from you right now?
“I was first to market. For eighteen months now there’s been no other product available that’s exactly like mine . But my competitor is gearing up to come out with something we hear is very close, and maybe better, so my product development team is scratching to get a prototype and see how we can top it.”
“I have the lowest price. But my gross margins are way down and I’m not making enough net profit.”
“Our distribution is tops. We’re in every tech store in the country. But an upstart from out of nowhere is selling online, so every day he’s chipping away at my base.”
2. Are your customers staying with you or shopping around, and if so, why?
“We’re pretty good at bringing them in, but the customer ‘fickle level’ is intense and we can’t figure it out. Sometimes it looks like a revolving door to me. They’re coming in, then turning around and going out, and we usually don’t see them again.”
“Our research shows a customer retention rate of only 64 percent. I’m guessing it’s because of negligible differences in price, platform, product specs, packaging, and customer service. But I don’t really know why they leave.”
“The stick-with-us level is pretty flat, and we’ve got to increase it to get out ahead of our competition.”
3. What is it about your competition’s relationship to their customers that you haven’t figured out yet? Why are they so successful?
“I really don’t know why. Our sales team is as good as theirs, but they’re definitely gaining more customers and keeping them in the family longer. In fact, forever! How do they do that?”
“I wish I knew. We need to do a better sales job, so I tried to hire their COO away from my biggest competitor, but he just smiled and said no thanks.”
“We’re not nearly as big or well known yet as most of our competitors, but I know we can catch up and pass the whole pack. I’m trying to find a new approach that we can afford that will give us a kick start.”
The Value of Our Preliminary Answers
All of the answers so far identify overriding problems that lead to one precise goal: to increase your number of customers and keep them in the fold. No one wants a customer who’s just passing through, constantly shopping for the small incremental incentives that you or one of your competitors may be offering. This kind of consumer is what I call “loyalty neutral”. They don’t particularly care whom they buy from and have no devotion to any one brand, retail outlet, supplier or client service.
What we’d all prefer, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a customer who would never think of changing, who is completely committed to you and what you provide for them. The challenge is how to reach, capture, and keep this type of customer whom I define as a “delighted advocates.”
To accomplish this, your job is to transform your company into a customer-centric organization. I’ve found that customers hunger for businesses that are genuinely focused on making a difference in their lives, and not just on making a buck. Unfortunately, most of us in business are so focused on making a buck that we miss what’s happening on a daily basis with our customers. Well-intentioned executives in front office, marketing, and sales find themselves struggling to achieve a deep understanding of the real reasons why customers inquire, buy, and remain loyal to a business today. Their marketing and sales messaging and service deliverables are primarily focused on business performance or product offerings. They’re company-centric rather than customer-centric. So they’re not yet creating real loyalty and delighted advocacy.
That is the premise of this book. The relentless focus by businesses to achieve growth by touting who they are or how they are good has had disastrous effects on growth, customer retention, and marketplace distinction. Consequently, discounting has replaced value — which has gone to zero!
Adopting and consistently delivering a customer-centric perspective in marketing, sales, and service profoundly elevates business performance throughout every aspect of your organization. That’s what this book is about.
There are many facets to this process, which I’ll explain in detail in this book. Individually, they are significant. Together, they will enable any business or professional to break out in the competitive, commoditized environment we know as the world of business today.
This leads to our next question:
What happens when you turn loyalty neutral customers into delighted advocates?
We’ve all experienced advocacy, or, if you will, passionate devotion, and I don’t mean just with our family, friends, and co-workers. I’ve been in love with Peet’s Coffee since it opened its first shop in 1966, launching the nationwide craft coffee movement and inspiring other chains like Starbucks, Tully’s, and others. Peet’s had stayed pretty small, with only 201 stand-alone stores, mostly in the West but relatively unknown elsewhere in the country. But in July of 2012, it was sold to a private German holding company, Joh. A. Benkiser (JAB), for nearly $1billion.
Even with new ownership, a lot of people are passionately devoted to Peet’s coffee and wouldn’t think of drinking anything else. Customers and consumers have the same feeling about Apple, Sleep Number Beds, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Ritz Carlton Hotels, Van Bortel Ford in East Rochester, New York, The Taco Bus in Tampa, Florida, and hundreds of other breakout companies.
Why? What are these companies doing that enables them to break out, capture more customers, and create such a loyal connection?
I can tell you this: it’s not just years of experience, a quality product, good customer service, or strategic pricing. Here’s my answer to this why question, based on my years of research and hands-on participation in operating businesses of all sorts: these companies have broken out because they message and deliver solely from their customers’ perspective. As a result of sustaining this consumer perspective, their new and existing customers believe these companies have the ability to make a difference in their lives. They have faith in them.
This belief is motivated by different things with different people, but here are some of the leading reasons customers see these companies and others like them as distinct from all others in the marketplace. Customer-centric companies are communicating solely in and from the consumers’ point of view. In addition, they not only gain more inquiries but they retain those customers because:
They know them. The business usually has at least one primary contact who recognizes them when they come in, call, or write.
They know their taste, their personal style.
They are their customers’ advocates and act as individuals that customers can trust to look after their particular unique and individual interests.
They give them a sense of comfort and security. There are no worries about dealing with them and their employees.
They reduce their customers’ stress level, from the simple things like physical strain (not bending over but putting wash in at table-top level) to emotional tension (one-step, perfect choice transactions).
They liberate them from unnecessary, time-consuming repetition.
Their product makes them proud. It gives them a special status that provides self-confidence, a sense of themselves to carry forward in their daily life.
They provide their customers with something they might not know they want until they get it, creating an emotional landing place, a kind of psychological release that gives the customer a warm glow of happiness and accomplishment.
A Story from Early in My Experience
Here’s a story about that last reason customer-centric companies don’t lose their clients: the emotional landing place, the psychological release.
When I was general sales manager for a Rolls Royce dealership, I received a call from a well-known celebrity who was looking for a specific Rolls-Royce for his wife’s upcoming birthday.
First, I asked him what model he was looking for.
“A Silver Shadow.”
“What color?” I asked.
“I know exactly,” he replied. “Arctic White with red leather interior and magnolia piping.”
“I have that exact model and color in stock,” I said, and quoted him the price.
“Sounds about right.”
Great! We had exactly what he wanted and the price was right. It was a done deal.
But then something happened. He hesitated. This well-known celebrity — a guy you read about in the papers every day, at the top of his game, even with what I thought were all the pieces in place to close the sale — stopped in his tracks and went silent.
I was puzzled and decided to press ahead.
“Okay,” I said finally, unable to bear the silence. “So are we good to go and sign the paperwork?”
No response. Then he kind of mumbled.
“Well I’m not really sure I want to do this.”
I was frustrated but felt I had to keep talking. I wasn’t going to let this sale slip away for reasons I didn’t even understand. So I began to vamp — to improvise and keep the conversation going.
“So where will you and your wife be celebrating?”
He brightened up right away and shared his plans enthusiastically.
“Oh, you know . . . big catered party at our beach house, a hundred people from our A list. Rod Stewart is singing a couple of songs and a few of my comedian friends are doing a kind of gentle spoof tribute to my wife . . .”
I knew he’d been married for many years now and that this was a significant birthday. So I kept going, attempting to dig deeper.
“Listen. I know what model and color and price you want, but . . . what else is important to you besides those things? After all, this is a big occasion.”
He became quiet again for what seemed like ages, then said, “Well, to be honest with you, I want to give her the Rolls-Royce in a beautiful box.”
Aha. Eureka! By asking that last question I had finally reached the jackpot answer, the real feeling he wanted to convey about this present for his wife. The sense of mystery and surprise he wanted to sustain until the very last minute. The level of spectacle opening the box in front of all his guests would provide. The climactic excitement that would deliver that emotional rush and sense of pride.
“So if I build a beautiful box and deliver it to your driveway on her birthday, you’ll pay for it?”
“Yes!” he nearly shouted. “Yes. And I don’t care what the box costs, if you’ll do it.”
“Of course. Give me the exact time, date, and address and let’s sign the paperwork.”
I learned a lot from this experience. A few more buyers over the years went for the beautifully boxed present (when I felt it was the right thing to offer), but more importantly, I learned to keep probing, to pull a potential customer out of a stalled deal by the powerful “what else?” question. To really discover the “why” behind their desire to purchase; the final answer you need to discover the emotional need, the psychological release and fulfillment this purchase really means for the client.
In the years since, we have perfected this process and the language required and taught thousands how to deep probe with the Power of Why.
Now let’s go back to the original challenge we all face when trying to break out in a competitive marketplace.
Back to Basics
When consulting with companies about getting out in front of their competitors in sales volume and market share, we always begin by studying the current operational and customer behavior this business is experiencing. And in most cases, they’re back at the stage where their customers and potential customers are still moving from company to company as they search for the best price, incentives, product needs, and customer service. As a result these companies are often offering what is commonly referred to as a Unique Selling Proposition (USP).
A USP represents the conventional, old-fashioned way of increasing sales. It requires constantly jiggering your offer: making small incremental product changes with new models to design, produce, and persuade people to purchase on a regular basis; constantly changing your price and offering special discounts and incentives in response to other USP style companies; and sleuthing out experimental customer services and perks culled from competitors and business-school consultants, including new leadership styles, team building, and internal motivation.
USP companies focus on themselves and what they are doing or how they do things. If sales are flat or declining, they revise their USP because it was a tried and true strategy that may have worked for them before.
I have a completely different philosophy. I say you should concentrate on what the customers want, what they are doing, and what they want to accomplish. And based on experience, that unique value is information that only the customers can define for us. We can’t say what it is until we understand where they’re coming from and what their special needs are and what they want to accomplish by doing business with you.
So our next chapter is going to focus not on the Unique Selling Proposition, but rather the Unique Value Promise — the process of converting a company that’s trying to compete based on Unique Selling Propositions such as company attributes, product features, and price into a company using a customer-centric Unique Value Promise (UVP) focused on emotional meaning, personal benefit, and clear customer outcomes that will capture and keep customers.
This distinction is at the heart of breaking out in a competitive marketplace.