The 5 Questions About Your Business You Need To Know the Answers To
The primary reason a marketing campaign or outreach effort fails is because the organization is missing the answers to 5 fundamental questions. In some cases, the organization may have worked toward finding answers to some of these key questions, but it will still fail if it does not reach internal consensus about their answers.
Let’s call these questions "The Big Questions" since their answers are pivotal to a company’s success. They involve understanding the purpose of the organization, why it exists in the first place, and why anyone should care.
Despite the importance of having answers to The Big Questions, many companies do not have this cornerstone of knowledge. It's not unusual when we begin work with a client, to learn that that they've never taken the time to stop and ask The Big Questions. Or if they have begun this process, they still feel unclear about the gathered responses and have not reached agreement about them among their team. But that's not surprising. Meaningful answers aren’t always easy to come by, and the answers can change over time as the organization evolves and shifts priorities. Sometimes asking The Big Questions can dredge up unpleasantness and uncertainty, but you will find it’s worth wading through these waters, because once you have the answers and internal consensus, your ability to engage others in your business improves substantially.
In another article we provide a step-by-step guide for creating a successful communication plan. Sustainable and repeatable success with marketing and outreach necessitates having a plan. But if, for whatever reason, you choose to skip formal planning, at minimum it is essential to gather your team and seek answers to The Big Questions. Then at least you’ll have a bare-bones framework to guide your communication efforts.
1. What core beliefs truly guide us?
Beyond financial compensation, most people find something compelling about the organization they lead or work for. It could be the company’s values or it could be its people. It could be a vision that has been casually discussed but not yet fully articulated. It could be the opportunity to be part of a solution to an urgent social problem. Look beyond your official mission statement to see how your company actually behaves. This is where the truth of guiding values is found. Do stated beliefs and reality align? If not, analyze the discrepancies. Either re-engineer the official mission/vision statement to match behavior, or discuss ways to reconnect company dogma and culture.
2. Who are we trying to do business with?
Nearly every company has several different groups of people that are critical to its success: end-customers, clients, partners, donors, volunteers, funders, board of directors, shareholders, policymakers, media, etc. Regardless of size or structure, at the top of every list should be the organization’s staff (and be sure to include any unpaid persons). Ask your team to identify who the different constituents are, and determine each group’s primary motivations. How would they describe the personality of each group? What do the individuals in this group care about? What do they fear? What are their problems? What do they want? Build a profile for each audience group. Organize the groups into different priority levels and identify any relationships between them.
3. Why should these individuals or this group care about what we’re doing?
Once you’ve identified your groups, you must be able to connect your purpose to their need. Knowing what their pains are should influence how you devise solutions to their problems. Take a hard look at your product and service offerings and your delivery models. What big outcomes do your customers get? Brainstorm a list of the many benefits each of your audiences receive when they become involved with your organization. Do these match up with the things they want?
4. How should these individuals or this group get involved?
As each audience type comes in contact with you, it should be clear and obvious to them what their next steps should be. It’s not enough to throw out a generic “Call us!” What specifically do you want them to do? What is it that you need from them? And what do they need to know to get the most out of their engagement with you? For each audience, this is going to be a little different. Interview customers directly, but remember that your staff and volunteers who have regular front-line interaction with your key audiences can provide you with valuable insights and can identify common points of frustration and confusion from their unique perspectives. Create a map of the customer journey from a person’s initial awareness of your company to when the service or product sale is complete. This is an invaluable exercise that will unearth opportunities for you to strengthen the customer experience and individual relationships.
5. Where are these individuals or this group located so we know how to reach them?
You want to meet your audiences where they are so when they’re out seeking solutions, you’re there, ready as a helpful resource. Determine the places your audiences frequent, online and offline. Explore ways that you can have a genuine and useful presence in these locations. Even more important than knowing where your audiences are physically located is understanding where they are mentally and emotionally in the buying cycle. If you’ve done the work of mapping the customer experience for your different audiences, then you’ll be able to see what information they need at various points in their journey with you. Being perceived as inauthentic or coming on too strong are the results of misunderstanding where your customer is at that particular point in time and what they really need from you.
Getting answers to The Big Questions is only part of your goal. While you may be able to generate many responses to these questions, without guiding your team to reach a consensus about the answers, your future efforts will lack focus and coordination. One way to surface unspoken ideas or disagreements is to thoughtfully question assumptions. As the team offers responses to The Big Questions, ask clarifying questions like:
Why do we do this?
Why do we think this is true?
Why has this worked in the past? Why has it not worked?
Why is that meaningful?
Challenging the status quo or commonly held beliefs can open up the discussion and allow you to go deeper. Pushing past face-value assumptions forces an examination of some “truths” that the team holds and could even reveal things that aren’t pleasant to look at. But in the end, you will gain a far better understanding of your culture, motivations, aspirations, and priorities if you take time to dig deeper under the surface.
Asking The Big Questions and getting consensus on the answers is hard work. It can be quite uncomfortable at times — but always illuminating. You'll be able to recognize and ignore the distractions that cause you to waste time and resources chasing after the wrong things. Going through this process is an excellent way to build camaraderie among the team and generate a renewed sense of purpose and energy, and you’ll also have a much easier time onboarding new staff. Not only will you have more clarity when interacting with your audiences, but these connections will be much more thoughtful and mutually delightful. When you and your team are able to clearly articulate responses to The Big Questions, your organization will operate with a new level of confidence, focus, and efficiency that will help its work to have a deeper and longer-lasting impact.