The Power of ‘Why?’ and How to Ask it With Impact.


I have a saying:  Always ask ‘why?’ two levels deep .

Sound odd?  If you’re a business owner or advisor then it shouldn’t, especially if we rephrase it to:  Always ask ‘why?’ on the why.  If you can read minds you don’t need to read this article, but for everyone else who can’t…

Knowledge + Awareness = Money

As a business owner, you no doubt rely on others to deliver goods and services within an environment full of processes, procedures and decision making. The bigger your company gets, the more removed you are from each individual action. This means that as time goes on there are progressively more opportunities for others to influence what, when and how something gets done. The longer you’ve been in business, the greater the chance that processes have taken on a life of their own, influenced by every person who’s been involved along the way.

Everything I just described impacts how efficient and effective your business is.

With my background as a Fractional COO and management consultant, the first thing I do when asking clients to describe how things work in their business, is to ask them: “Why?”  When they explain a process, I ask them ‘why’ it runs that way. When they outline a procedure, I ask them ‘why’ it’s done like that.

But here’s the thing, their first answer doesn’t give me the whole story. I need the second one to understand the assumptions, behaviors, or additional information influencing things behind the scenes to get a complete picture.  Together we dig deeper into understanding a process to get to the bottom of a potential problem.

Pulling Back The Curtain

The power of ‘why?’ is in these examples.

Client 1:  We won’t take orders over 20 widgets within 2 hours of shipping.

Me:  Why is that?

Client 1:  Because it takes 6 hours to pack and ship more than 20 widgets.

Me:  Why is that?

Client 1:  Hmmm, good question. I think it’s because someone has to go to our secondary storage location if we need more than 20 widgets.

If you’re like me, you’ll want to keep asking ‘why?’ so you can figure out what is magical about 20 widgets and what you could do to remove that dependency, right?

Client 2:  It takes us 3 months for a new billable resource to be profitable.

Me:  Why is that?

Client 2:  That’s the break-even point considering we can’t invoice the first 2 weeks.

Me:  Why can’t you invoice for that time?

Client 2:  The prime’s contract stipulates that the customer has 2 weeks to decide whether to keep the resource. It’s not something we can change.

Bummer. But it’s important to know and to build into your projections around budget for resources and the process for onboarding. If there’s significant risk of having a less expensive, higher margin resource get booted after a week where you’ve lost the time and incurred the cost of hiring, it might still be best to get a more expensive resource with a higher likelihood of staying on contract. At least you know why you’re making these decisions.

Client 3 (CEO):  I have to be in these weekly sales meetings because John can’t lead them on his own.

Me:  Oh, why’s that?

Client 3 (CEO):  He only knows about 80% of our sales data.

Me:  Why’s that?

Client 3 (CEO):  I don’t think John’s interested in the rest. Besides, I’m the only person who knows about the other 20% so I’ve always been the one to report on that.

We need to establish why the CEO is the only one who knows 20% of the sales data and why John isn’t interested it. There could be a valid reason, but equally, educating John on the big picture to run the meeting solo and re-tasking that hour of the CEO’s time might be more valuable for the company.

It’s Not That Simple, Is It?

So, you can see how powerful asking ‘why?’ can be, right. BUT, let’s face it, do any of us enjoy being asked why we did something? Nope. It reminds us of a time when we were kids and in trouble. Who doesn’t have a memory where a person in authority asked, “Why would you do something like that?” and it was meant in an extremely negative way.

Therefore, how we ask ‘why?’ makes a difference.

On this I give credit to a former coworker, awesome guy, and consultant named Barnabus Roundtree.  He joined the company directly from the military. Initially we had strife every time I asked him ‘why?’  He explained to me that depending on your background, being asked why was an instant sign of disapproval or disrespect, not simply of curiosity. I hadn’t thought of it that way.

Here’s how I handle it.  I explain up front in every conversation I have with a client around processes or decision making that I’m going to ask a lot of questions. And I’m going to ask ‘why?’ a lot. But, that it’s important for them to understand I’m not questioning them or their judgement. It’s simply that I cannot read minds and I don’t have any other way to get educated on their perspective.

Let’s bring this back to the main point.  Processes can take on a life of their own over time and that impacts how efficient and effective your business is.

If we don’t know why we make certain decisions, or why processes run a certain way, we can’t know if they are impeding growth or profitability. We can’t know if they add to or mitigate risk. But knowing why is only half the battle.  The other half is what you do about the answer when you learn it.

The Power Of ‘Why?’ In Action

Here is a real-life example from a client where we realized the power of ‘why?’.

Client 4:  I don’t like handling inbound sales inquiries and I put off returning those calls until the end of the day. My close rate is only 20% of those but I close 80% of my outbound sales and referrals.

Me:  Why is that?

Client 4:  Sometimes it takes a while to respond to the inbounds and at best only half of them are qualified. I’d rather spend my time on the ones with a better close rate.

Me:  Why are you handling these inbound sales inquiries anyways?

Client 4:  I don’t know. I handle all the sales inquiries because I’m the sales guy.

If you’re like me, you’re wondering why the close rate is so low on those inbound leads. You’re thinking about ways to get the rate up and find optimal balance between inbound and outbound.  But this was enough to get started.

First, we looked at the data and learned that more than 50% of inbound leads could be disqualified immediately – out of area, couldn’t pay, wanted a service not provided.  Marketing took action to adjust the website, SEO and campaigns to improve lead quality.

Second, we dug into the motivations and drivers of callers by listening to recordings and the team’s anecdotal inputs. Many callers were price-shopping. Other wanted to complete the sale on the initial call. That told us that our solution for handling inbound calls needed to run from initial conversation to closing the sale and sending the contract.

Third, we evaluated who had the best close rate on inbound calls. It was the Operations and Service Delivery team functioning as a backup when the Sales team wasn’t available. They were experts in the client experience, but they were stretched too thin trying to oversee both service delivery and inbound sales.

The solution was to create an inside sales team, trained by both Sales and Service Delivery, and dedicated to answering the inbound calls. They were knowledgeable about the services and were able to close the sale right away. This more than doubled the success rate!

Start Asking Why

Asking ‘why?’ more often will be a game changer in your organization. Do it well and you will increase the value of your business. It’s THAT impactful.

But here’s the thing, it’s not easy to do this yourself. It takes an impartial set of eyes to see where the why’s need directing.

That’s where we come in….

If you’re a business owner who’s ready to answer ‘why?’ two levels deep, contact us at [email protected], or book an obligation-free Discovery Call – you’ll be amazed at what we can uncover in just an hour on a call together.

BizOps Solved works with business owners to make their companies more valuable and their lives better.

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