Many entrepreneurs are too easily put off by the ‘half answer’.
Q: Why don’t my products sell?
A: No one asks for them
Well that is an answer but is it a full answer. If we ask why again:
Q: Why does no one ask for them?
We could get any number of answers:
- A1: Because we don’t have them on display
- A2: Because they’re cheaper next door
- A3: Because the market has moved on and there’s no call for them now.
Each asks for a different reaction from the business owner, each asks for another go at asking why.
Q: Why (how) are they cheaper next door?
- A1; Because they run them as ‘loss leaders’
- A2: Because our margins (overheads) are too high
- A3: Because we source them too expensively.
We do have to be careful with A3 which has transferred responsibility from the sales force to the buyers, but they may be right, so we have to ask why once again.
Q: Why do we source them too expensively?
- A1: Because our volumes are so low
- A2: Because we source them from expensive suppliers
- A3: Because ours have a higher specification than theirs.
A1 here calls to mind the old Harry Belafonte song ‘There’s a hole in my bucket’ where the first and last lines – separated by six or seven verses are ‘There’s a hole in my bucket’.
It also points another truism about the question ‘why’. When Harry Cohen started Tesco his motto was ‘pile em high: sell em cheap’. Tesco is one of the world’s most successful retailers but they don’t use this business model now and that goes to show that you not only have to ask ‘why’ many times in one session, you need to be having regular sessions.
On the subject of truisms we end up moving from the question of the sale or non-sale of one item to questions about the continued relevance of a business model.
Shell, the oil company says you have to ask ‘why’ five times before you get to the underlying truth, but then they’re running a huge, multi-functioned, international business and you’re not. In our little example four ‘whys’ got us somewhere near the truth and a long way from our starting point.
The fundamental point is that in the hurly burly of setting up a business, or running an on-going business it’s all too easy to see a whole bunch of trees and difficult to see that together they constitute a wood.