In which we learn the value of asking questions about value.
“Why are you doing that?” A daughter’s question to her father while watching him struggle with household task.
“Do you mean, ‘why am I doing it?’ or ‘why am I doing it this way?’ ”
I’m sure there must have been a better reason than “because your mother asked me to,” but I couldn’t come up with it. Maybe something like, “because humans have done this for thousands of years and I don’t want to break the chain.” Or, “because a flea once bit a pig in Siberia, and here we are.”
“Well, that’s stupid. Like, why are we doing that at all? Why don’t we just let it go? Who cares?”
Ever asked this question of a client? We ask, “How do you currently handle incoming payments from your customers?” Our client describes the process: “Mary goes to the post office, picks up the checks, brings them back, opens the envelopes…. Blah blah blah.”
Next question (the business version of “why are you doing that?”): “How does that particular approach create value for your company?” In other words, why don’t you just let it go, who cares?
In a business, EVERY step and procedure should connect to value creation (or elimination of value destruction).
“How does that approach create value?” opens a discussion of “value” (rather than cost) in which we and our client can compare the value of the current approach vs. the value of one or more alternatives (some of which could include the products we sell). And, we need to drive down into the details.
Us: “How does the step ‘Mary drives to the post office to pick up the mail at the PO box’ create value?”
Client: “It doesn’t really, it’s a cost. It uses up her time.”
Us: “OK, so what’s the value you give up by having her do this as opposed to something else?”
Client: “I don’t know. (Thinking) Well, it means she has to delay something… like getting invoices out.”
Us: “So, what’s the impact of not getting invoices out?”
Client: “Maybe a day or two delay… so… a couple of days use of the cash when it comes in.”
Us: “So which of those two is more important?”
Client: “No question. Getting out the invoices.”
Us: “So, it sounds like finding a way to eliminate the post office trips would be a good thing.”
Now, we have basis for value comparison. If we have a product or service that would help eliminate the trip to the post office, we can compare the price of that product with the value of “a couple of days use of the cash” and see whether it makes sense to offer that product as an idea.
Could our client say, “great idea, thanks, I’m going to get three bids on that”? Yes, there’s always that risk. And the fact that we’ve come at this from the client’s side of the table (value) rather than ours (product features and price) increases our value to our clients. They will remember who asked the questions and who helped them tease the problem apart.