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World's Most Important Business Question

One simple question can determine whether your company will succeed or fail. Make sure you and your team are constantly asking it.

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I'm a big believer in the power of questions. I think the questions that you ask yourself, on a day-to-day basis, determine the quality of your life.

If you're asking yourself lousy questions--like "Why me?" or "How could this get any worse?"--rest assured that your brain will come up with answers.

Similarly, if you're asking yourself questions like "How can I improve?" or "What am I grateful for?" your mind will prove equally resourceful.

The same thing is true in business. The questions that people, from the CEO on down, ask on a day-to-day basis determine exactly how well (or badly) a company is going to perform.

With that in mind, there's one question that's more important than any other question that ever gets asked--regardless of the industry, company, or market. That all-important question is this:

"How does the action I'm currently taking help our customers?"

Just to be perfectly clear, the word customer in this question refers to "somebody who buys something from my company." There is no such thing as an "internal customer." Companies in which employees think it's productive to address the needs of "internal customers" are on the fast track to failure.

There are two reasons that question is so important:

  • It keeps people focusing on customers, without whom the company could not exist.
  • It forces you to think about the actual activity that you're actually doing right now.

Successful companies are those in which this question is second nature to every employee and implicit in everything everyone does. Companies where this question seems like "something that the Sales group worries about" are either cruising on past success or actively going down the toilet.

It's really that simple.

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Last updated: Aug 2, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is "Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts that You Need to Know."

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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