Commentary by Richard Harrington
From: “Bursting the CEO Bubble” by Hal Gregersen hbr.org, March/April 2017
In his excellent article in this month’s Harvard Business Review, Hal Gregersen details the issues facing senior leaders in organizations leading them to insulate themselves in a “cocoon.” The nature and power of their role leads employees often only telling them what they want to hear and not what they need to hear for the good of the company. His suggested recourse to this dilemma is to adopt an inquisitive mindset, acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers, and ask probing questions of stakeholders throughout the company, suppliers, and customers.
The prescription is a culture of asking questions for leaders at every level; I agree. The article recounts a story of Bob Woodward, the legendary journalist who would ask questions that seemed so basic that people would often mistake him as uninformed. Beginning at such a fundamental level allowed Woodward to let his interviewee reveal things that he didn’t know he was looking for.
This level of open inquisitiveness is essential when working with customers to glean knowledge as to why they use your products and services, what value do they bring to their customers. and how do they impact their company’s bottom line; either through increased revenue, decreased cost, or mitigated risk.
When we interview clients’ customers as part of understanding value, sales are often nervous at the fundamental nature of questions we want to ask. They are often surprised, however, that many of the responses we relate back are things they would never have thought of as valuable to their client. Some simple to implement value-adds are often not even on their radar, and they are simply scared to ask fundamental questions for fear as coming off as unknowledgeable about their account.
So give it a go. Marketing and pricing professionals are in prime position to learn fundamental value truths about your most important customers. All you have to do is ask.