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Why, What, How, Who, When, Where

by David Brock on August 26th, 2020

We see versions of these words in different contexts. If you’ve ever been a journalist, these are the fundamental issues the journalist must address in any story. If you are a Simon Sinek fan, by now you have internalized his principles of “Start with why.”

We don’t talk much about these principles in selling or as managers in leading our people/organizations.

In looking at sales and engaging our customers, we spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the What and How. We are inundated with training, content, articles, books on “You have to prospect, You have to build your pipeline, You have to follow the process, ……..” These focus on what sales people have to do, they are generally closely followed by techniques and tools focusing on how we do those things. We are taught things like “How to qualify, how to handle objections, how to close……”

Likewise, as managers, we tend to focus a lot on the What and How. We also look at the Who when we are looking at the overall organizational structure and some of our go to market strategies. For example, establishing SDR teams, Account Management, Reseller or other ways we might engage our customers.

The challenge with focusing on just a subset of these things is we miss a lot of important stuff, we miss a lot of important context, which limits our abilities to maximize our performance–whether it’s engaging our customers or people in meaningful/high impact ways, whether it’s focusing our strategies/execution initiatives in the most effective/efficient manner, whether it’s helping our customers and people understand the value we can create with them.

Simon Sinek would have us start with “Why.” Ideally, I tend to agree with him, pragmatically, I would suggest, “start wherever you are at, but use that as the platform to address each of the other issues in meaningful ways.” The reality, as we address each of these issues, is that it’s an iterative process.

We may start with the what and how, but to give it meaning we have to understand the why, who, where, when. As we begin to address those, we may change our what and how. As we answer these, we may find ourselves changing the why.

Repeating myself, this process is an iterative process, we constantly are examining these issues, adjusting our perspectives as things change or as we want to change.

The reality is our answers/responses to these very introspective issues will and should change over time. Our Why, What, How, Who, What, When, Where will constantly evolve as we execute our strategies. They will evolve as our customers and markets change. They will evolve as the world community in which we live and conduct business change. We have to continually re-examine each of these issues, adjusting as we move forward.

I don’t intend this post to be a tutorial on each of these issues, but let me offer some things to begin thinking about as we look at each.

I suppose it’s best to start with Why (Sorry Simon Sinek, couldn’t resist). Why is really a foundational question. It really speaks to why our organization exists, or why our customers exist. It focuses on things like our purpose, our values, our culture. It helps us understand the meaning we create for our people, our customers, and in our industries.

As we seek to deal with complexity, disruption, change, the Why gives us the foundation or starting point to understanding the issues and enables us to begin to explore how we might respond to them.

Let’s look at the What. As you might guess, what helps us start to look at the things we should be doing, as a result of what we determine with our why. They might help us define our markets, our organizational structure and roles, critical activities. Often, we tend to start with the “what,” focusing on what we do—“we provide software and services….., we sell this…” As Simon Sinek says, it’s virtually impossible for our people and customers to connect with us in a meaningful way, with just the “what.” While we often start with the What, there is always a why that underlies it. It may be implicit, we may have never thought about it, but it’s important to reflect on and discover that why.

The How is pretty easy to think about, perhaps that’s why we tend to spend most of our time focusing on the how. “How do we engage customers, how do we grow, how to we increase our customer sat, how do we improve our margins. The problem is that focusing only on the how misses so much, we may be doing the wrong things with the wrong people, there may be better ways to do things.

Who is important, but too often we fail to address it or fail to really understand it. Who tells us who our customers are, they are our ICP–but you can see, it’s impossible to define the who, in a meaningful way, if we don’t understand the Why and What. Who is critical in looking at our own organizations. It helps us understand roles and responsibilities. It is the basis for figuring out how we achieve our goals.

When is important to sequencing and urgency. It helps us understand the impact of time or to map what we are doing in the context of time. When helps us identify triggers, it helps us address the concept of efficiency. But it’s impossible to answer when, until we’ve looked at the why, what, how, who (and where).

Most of the time we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about “Where.” We tend to think of our offices, or the customers locations, and so forth. But where is important. Understanding “where” our customers educate themselves on new solutions and issues is important. When we identify that, we adjust our engagement strategies showing up where they show up. You can see where, has a huge impact on our how. For example, a lot of the principles around digital transformation are driven by where (and you can see how each of the other components are involved.

Why, What, How, Who, When, Where are critical to our ability to achieve, to accomplish things, to create meaning and value for ourselves, our people, our customers.

They don’t stand alone, the are tightly interconnected. Changes in each drives changes in all the others.

What are you doing to understand these issues, their interrelationships, and take action? Why, How, Who, Where, When…..

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3 Comments
  1. I am absolutely with you on the crucial necessity of these questions.

    May I suggest though a slightly different sequence. ‘Who” are our target customers (not markets) should be answered first by the company leadership followed by answering “Why” they are ideal targets. Having answers to these questions from the company leadership will lead to better answers to “How” and “Where” first answered by the Sales Leadership. Effective communication is then needed for these initial answers to “Who”, “Why”, “How” and “Where” be cascaded down into the sales organization for further refinement and completion with the answers to “What” and “When”

    • Christian: I don’t disagree with your response, but I think it points out the difficulty/limitations if we don’t address all these, iterating and refining them. Actually, one can start anywhere. For example, there are lots of new technologies, where the developers know they what, why, how, but have yet to figure out the who. They sometimes experiment in a number of markets until they figure that out.

  2. Brian MacIver permalink

    When, I was taught them, they were a quote from Rudyard Kipling:

    “I Keep Six Honest Serving Men …”

    I keep six honest serving-men
    (They taught me all I knew);
    Their names are What and Why and When
    And How and Where and Who.

    I send them over land and sea,
    I send them east and west;
    But after they have worked for me,
    I give them all a rest.

    I let them rest from nine till five,
    For I am busy then,
    As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
    For they are hungry men.

    But different folk have different views;
    I know a person small—
    She keeps ten million serving-men,
    Who get no rest at all!

    She sends’em abroad on her own affairs,
    From the second she opens her eyes—
    One million Hows, two million Wheres,
    And seven million Whys!”

    ― Rudyard Kipling, The Elephant’s Child

    I was shown that, starting with WHO,
    who am I talking with, was the best place to start,
    as it made the 5 other questions work harder.

    We were taught to use them socially, at cocktail parties,
    and ANY encounter, but to make conversation, not interrogation.

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