This deceptively simple question is one that leaders should ask their employees, again and again.
Many years ago, I had a colleague who would call me and ask this question of me – usually at about 3 PM on a Friday. It was tempting to answer it by saying that our service was better, or our prices lower, or we had more locations, better products, or “the best people.” But he and I both knew the answers were more complicated than that.
We often think we know why people buy stuff from us, but in my experience, we are often deceived by our preferences. The things that employees or the entrepreneurs of the business love the most about their own “stuff” are sometimes the reasons they think other people love their “stuff.” And it’s sometimes hard to understand why people don’t love what you love. (Think about that friend of yours that keeps trying to convince you that “you’ll love Yanni as much as I do if you just go to one of his concerts!”)
Leaders love their companies, and they love their company’s “stuff.” But they are capable of being objective and hard-headed enough to know that it’s not enough to enjoy your “stuff.”
Maybe you own a bakery, and perhaps it makes excellent pies, and maybe you get compliments from customers that reinforce your belief in the superiority of your pies. But if making great pies was enough, there would be a pie shop on every block in your city. Because it’s not that hard to make tasty pies, just as it’s not as hard as we think to have “good people” or “good service.”
There are many reasons why people buy stuff. Being smart and thoughtful in understanding these reasons is the essence of marketing. And if we involve our employees in discussions about these questions, we usually increase their engagement, their creativity, and their sense that they are part of something bigger than themselves.
So, this question, which seems so apparent, may indeed be the most challenging question of all for you and your employees to ponder together.