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#235: A Word to the Whys

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, February 5, 2010
Updated: Friday, February 5, 2010
Our firm focuses on R&D companies and we work with really smart people who, because they look so deeply into these problems, can easily go off on tangents. Any suggestions of how to keep everyone on track when we are coming up with solutions?

One tactic that comes to mind is to introduce a process in your discussions to keep focus in a solution space. This is known as the "five whys." When you start with a solution to an identified problem, accept the first solution and then ask a series of "why" questions.

For example, someone suggests they should sell more products in the marine market (which is one of your strongest markets). Why? Because the marine market is underserved. Why? Because the market is growing and no new suppliers are entering. Why? Because the margins are poor for this highest growth segment of the market. Why? Because the new segment cares about price more than quality, which is your company's strength. Why? Because these new customers are young consumers early in their earning careers.

What started out as a "good idea" to expand into a market area your company is already in, then swerved into a potentially bad idea (poor margins), then back into a good idea (future potential) but for different reasons. Before you asked the "whys" you might have entered the market quickly, but now you know to pace yourself and cultivate this customer base as their spending abilities grow.

Tip: It may take more or less than five "whys" to get to the bottom of an issue, but you will get your client into the habit of becoming very precise with their suggestions.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  communication  customer understanding  learning  market research 

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