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The art of the question

Albert Einstein once shared, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the it, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask. Once I know the proper question, I could solve it in less than five minutes.”

The right question can reframe an organization’s vision or redirect a leader who has lost his or her way. That was the opening idea I shared at the Family Dollar Elevation Forum at October 2 event featuring a community of leading entrepreneurial executives from the CPG industry. As I said to the attendees, “there is no perfect question, just the right question for the moment. Questions must be appropriate to the person and the timing must be spot-on. Did you ask the right question today?”

I also challenged them whether they are relying too much on their past experiences and not enough on a question and whether it is not the answer that offers insight, but the question. Studies show that just 17% of salespeople think they are pushy, yet buyers believe it’s closer to 50%. And only 3% of buyers completely trust sales people.

The group decided there are three questions that every leader should ponder: Other than your title, why should anyone follow you? What business are you really in? What is your team thinking but are afraid to express?

Today’s consumers expect great value on everything they purchase. The top 10% of the U.S. population controls 77% of the wealth in the U.S. while the bottom 90% controls only 23% of the wealth. The forum’s members had a passionate discussion discussing how their organizations plan on being part of the solution. Many of the companies participating have committed to better understand the value requirements and lifestyle needs of the core value consumer. One of the core messages discussed was that every item in every value store must have a plan to deliver more sales productivity per linear inch. In a limited space, limited SKU environment brands must start thinking differently about growing their brands in every value retailer across the U.S. The key question embraced by all participants was, “how does your company transform all of your items to offer even more value to this growing and valuable consumer group?”

The afternoon discussion focused on how do companies improve alignment between sales and marketing in a chaotic world. About 51% of marketers are not satisfied with the communication between sales and marketing and 53% of sales leaders are not pleased with marketing’s support. Most marketing organizations have a definition of the retailer’s business requirements and the majority of sales departments have their own definition. That is where the disconnect begins. According to Forrester Research, only 8% of companies have strong alignment between their sales & marketing teams. The forum attendees agreed that the solution lies in aligning mutual KPI’s, minimalizing internal competition and investing in internal relationship building.

Dan Mack is the Founder of Mack Elevation and a performance coach, strategist and the author of Dark Horse: How Challenger Companies Rise to Prominence. To learn more, go to
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