Consider Yourself A Frontier Lawman…

There is a business weapon that you should use more often whether you are on staff or in management, whether you are in Sales or in Marketing, and whether you have been at your organization for 15 days or 15 years.

The weapon that you should carry all the time and be ready to fire on a moment’s notice is the question, “Why?” I call it a weapon because you should use it like a frontier lawman to protect your company. When used effectively, not only will this question protect your company, it will:

• Help you learn
• Make others prove or justify their thinking
• Create a better end product or service

“Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton was the one who asked why.”
-Bernard Baruch

Over the years, I have seen CFOs consistently use this business weapon as proficiently as a hired gunslinger. (A lot of you are nodding your heads in agreement.) But few others come close to pulling out a “why” as quickly or as often.

How often does a weak idea get executed and money get spent because no one asked “why?”

Here are a few scenarios where I think you could unholster the question and fire away…

You are sitting in a trade show selection meeting and someone has proposed spending a significant amount of money to go to a big, general trade show that you went to last year. Time to draw your weapon. You fire a “why” across the table. Direct hit. You immediately get the following responses:

  • “We’ve always gone to this show”
  • “All of our competitors are going to be there”
  • “Sales gets to see people there that they can’t get on the phone”

Did anyone present any data that showed the opportunities and revenue generated from last year’s participation? Did it show a strong ROI? Moment of truth, do you let the trade show proposal get patched up by anecdotes and gut feelings or do you let it bleed out and die?

You are in a sales management meeting and one of the sales directors suggests that the entire organization change the way that they sell. He wants to use a methodology that he read in a new business book and wants to bring in trainers. Everyone in in the room is excited because they have been hearing about the methodology on social media. You slowly reach down, pull out your weapon, and fire one round of “why?” You are told that:

  • Someone heard self-proclaimed thought leader Missy So-and-So endorse the sales methodology at a recent conference and she came up with the popular term, “melling” * (marketing and selling) and the “Four Bs to Selling” *
  • Someone else just read a blog of 15 predictions about the new sales methodology by a panel of “industry experts”

Have any of these thought leaders implemented the methodology themselves? Can anyone cite any revenue-driven data, research, or case studies about the methodology? Even if the methodology makes sense, do you need trainers to come in? By asking “why” you force everyone consider any risks, all costs, and other solutions before proceeding.

Executive Management
You are sitting in the monthly VP meeting of a privately owned company and the CEO comes in and says that he wants to change the direction and structure of the company. You would be surprised but he did the same thing a year ago…and a year before that. Do you pull out your business weapon or keep it holstered? Hmm…

While I have provided a few scenarios, there are literally thousands of scenarios within a company where asking this simple question could dramatically improve the company output. I challenge you to ask the question “why” more in meetings in the coming months. No matter who you are, I think you will find that it will help you learn, make others prove or justify their thinking, and create a better end product or service. You may even save some money in the process by refining the proposed action or by delaying or cancelling the activity. All of these benefits can only help the company. Great thinking is driven by questions.

In an ideal world, everyone should be in position to ask “why?” If an idea is good, it can hold up to scrutiny and will be supported by data or strong reasoning. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. Some people have egos and insecurities. Not all opinions are weighed equally.

While I do recommend asking “why” a lot more often than you have in the past, be careful and smart. You don’t want to be booted out of the company one day asking yourself “why?”

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