This week, I have a good friend of mine and a marketing expert providing a guest column - Nancie Ruder is the owner and CEO of Noetic Consultants

Each business dilemma seems to be its own unique beast. While we all tend to focus on prioritizing the important issues to solve, and have an overall approach to maximizing profitability, we often lack a common, effective approach for solving key issues. Too often we reinvent the wheel by delving into the particulars before looking at the big strategic picture. When framed strategically and consistently, the solutions can actually show themselves quite readily. In doing so, Who, What and How are the key questions to ask.

Not a new model, Who/What/How has existed in the marketing community for many years since its invention by Procter & Gamble. It is under leveraged, however, in broader business problem solving. Take a quick read and give it a try with the next thorny issue you confront. You may just find a solution staring at you that you otherwise would not have seen.

WHO
Start with the WHO: who are we trying to serve? Is it an internal audience? A key customer? A partner? Clearly identify this primary audience, then ask what "pain" they are experiencing that we 'the business' can resolve? What do they want that they are not getting? As importantly, what emotion(s) are they experiencing as they are not having this need or desire met? Frustration? Anxiety? Hope? Fear?

WHAT
Once we accurately understand the WHO, we move to the WHAT: WHAT can we offer that will meet the need of who we are trying to serve? This is the critical question, because too often we ask this the other way around: here is our WHAT, now WHO will buy it? Leading with our products or services and believing that the market will follow risks irrelevance. By choosing who we serve first, understanding their needs, then framing our offering in light of these needs, they consider us seriously--seeing that we "get" them.

HOW
Lastly, once our WHAT is defined to be the true remedy to the unmet need of our WHO, we must determine HOW to deliver it to them. This involves considering deeply how and when our WHO will be most open to our WHAT. When the challenge is a complex one, this is best done visually via a journey map, so that we ensure total focus on HOW the WHO walks through their life's journey and where our WHAT can fit in to this. Consider.

AN EXAMPLE

To put this all together in a tangible way, consider this example: An international, member-based organization was losing longstanding members in one geographical region. This region had always been an area of growth and high revenue, and now quickly had become a financial drain. The organization's WHO, in this case, were senior IT professionals. They actually highly valued membership and wanted to stay involved, but the region's financial crisis was forcing cutbacks and a greater show of fiscal responsibility. No matter how much value they were getting from the organization, these members felt compelled to forego the benefits. They were disappointed about this loss but highly stressed about the larger situation. Importantly, losing membership was only one of many hits they were taking in this new reality.

By understanding the new 'pain' of their WHO, this company was able to see that their historical WHAT was no longer a relevant offering. To address the new need of their WHO, they revamped their WHAT into a la carte services with ROI metrics that could be purchased on a case by case basis. This met the need of their WHO by enabling them to partake in select services that would improve profitability and directly addressed their need to show fiscal responsibility and only invest in direct value offerings.

Next came the HOW. HOW do you deliver this new offering to top IT professionals whose markets are under stress, whose time is pressed, and whose coffers are dwindling? With corporate travel also now limited, the WHAT needed to be conveyed with credibility across long distances. Through visual mapping it was determined that incentives to strong former members would enable access to several more members in the region.

Ground in the WHO
The next time you face a business dilemma, try the framework in As you populate it, be sure to start with the WHO and work your way in order through WHAT and HOW. Try visual mapping for the HOW. You might just find a solution that you would not have seen otherwise.

Nancie Ruder is the owner and CEO of Noetic Consultants, a Bethesda-based marketing training and strategy consultancy.