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STRATEGY

Why Smart Strategies Require Even Smarter Questions

The quality of your questions determines whether your strategy makes sense.
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Business strategy is always the result of the question that you ask.  If you ask the right questions, you'll end up with smarter strategies.  If you ask the wrong questions, you'll end up with dumber strategies.

For example, take the question:

  • "How can we beat the competition?" (Question #1)

In my view, this is the wrong question to ask because it directs your attention to your competitors and away from your customers.  I think a much more useful question is:

  • "What do we provide that is uniquely valuable to my customers?" (Question #2)

This question is more useful because it directs your attention to your relationships with your customers.

Now let's suppose that you've got oodles of "big data" at your fingertips and you have the ability to analyze that data to discover insights about your market.

If you start with Question #1, you'll probably learn under what circumstances the customer bought from your competitor rather than you. Since those are competitive sales situations, they probably involve price as in "who has the lowest?"

That analysis is not entirely useless.  However, looking at competitive wins is likely to bypass situations where customers didn't even bother to consider the competition.  It's probably in those engagements where you'll find that what's unique about your company and its offerings.

Let's look at how the different questions create different strategies.

If you ask Question #1, your strategy will probably involve dropping your price.

If you ask Question #2, your strategy will be to emphasize more strongly whatever it is that makes your company special.

I would maintain that the strategy that emerges from Question #2 is smarter than the strategy that emerges from Question #1.

I'll go further.  If you really do have something unique to sell, a "drop your price" strategy is just plain stupid.

With that in mind, here are some dumb questions and some smarter alternatives.  

First, some dumb questions:

  1. Are we leaving money on the table?
  2. How can we make the numbers better?
  3. How can we get a bigger budget?

And now some smarter alternatives:

  1. How can we serve our customer better?
  2. Why aren't customers buying as quickly as we expected?
  3. How can we create more profit with the money we're spending?

I could give other examples, but I'm sure you get the point.

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Last updated: Jun 4, 2014

GEOFFREY JAMES

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, 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 more than 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 You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.




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