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The Power of “Why?”

by Hank Barnes  |  March 12, 2013  |  1 Comment


A simple question that can generate tremendous insight.  You can ask the question in one word or with some added detail (e.g. Why is that important to you?), but asking it is almost always better than guessing.

This was a lesson I learned years ago.  In selling situations, we get so focused on our products and all the great things it can do, that it is easy to forget that its about the customer.  We want to solve problems and prove how smart we are or how good our product is.  As a result, we jump to respond to very general questions.

For example, years ago, I led marketing for a content management company.  At the time, SAP was really hot.  So it was very common for prospects to ask “Do you integrate with SAP?”.  Our sales engineers would struggle with this (we really did not have a clean integration solution) and were concerned about how that was impacting our sales.  I encouraged them to ask “Why do you want to integrate with SAP?”.  It  turned out that most of the prospects did not have a reason–it was a question they just always asked.  By asking “Why?”, our sales engineers were able to steer the conversation back to the problems that they prospect was trying to address and away from generic technical hurdles that were not relevant to the situation.

Why works in other situations as well.  For marketers, it is great to use it with its companion “So What?” when reviewing messaging and marketing plans.    If you can’t answer those questions, then more work needs to be done.

Why does Why work?  Its all about getting additional context.  Context is the key to communicating effectively.  When you aren’t sure of the purpose of a question or a statement, asking for clarification will always help matters.  In fact, it demonstrates a form of active listening that will help tighten the engagmeent between the participants.

So, the next time you are asked a question or are reviewing some materials and are not sure of the question or the context, be sure to ask “Why”.  I bet you’ll find yourself on a path to increased understanding and connection with the people you are interacting with.

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Category: go-to-market  

Tags: listening  messaging  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on The Power of “Why?”

  1. Asia Matos says:

    This reminds me of Simon Sinek’s TEDtalk (and ultimately, book) called “Start With Why” ( Very powerful stuff.

    Also – love the “So What?” bit. It’s a great reality check. (I use it almost everyday!)

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