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Home > Blog > The One Question You Should Ask To Unlock Your Business Transformation

Thursday 2nd May 2019

The One Question You Should Ask To Unlock Your Business Transformation

The One Question You Should Ask To Unlock Your Business Transformation

Seems simple, doesn’t it. Just one question and it’s not even a trick one. How can there be one simple question that is going to unlock your business transformation and drive your business into a transformational state that brings you fast-tracked growth? Well, when you fully understand the answer to this question, it can transform not only what you do, but how you think about your industry and how you engage with your people, customers, and stakeholders.

If you’re passionate about your business, there’s a high chance that you don’t just work for the financial benefits so what is the one thing that is driving you and your business forward? I’m certain there is one fundamental question that not only answers the above, but could give you the power to revolutionise the way you do business.

To prove my point, I want you to undertake a simple little exercise. Imagine I have just met you at a party and asked, “so, what business are you in?”  Write that answer down on a piece of paper, your phone, iPad or whatever. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just your initial thoughts captured on a piece of paper.

The One Question You Should Ask To Unlock Your Business Transformation

In my 20+ year long career I’ve asked this question multiple times to businesses of all shapes and sizes and normally the answer can fit into one of three buckets;

A the name of the company that they’re working for.

B the industry they’re employed in.

C  the product or services they provide.

Seems reasonable, right?


Most people don’t actually know what business they’re in.

You’re going to tell me that’s a bold statement and completely wrong. Please bear with me and I’ll explain.

Business Transformation: What business are you ‘really’ in?

You may have noticed one simple little addition to the question I asked in the beginning of the post, the word ‘really’. At the start, I asked you “what business are you in?” which has now become “what business are you really in?”

The first question will give you a more logical, black and white answer, affiliated to your product and industry. By simply adding the word REALLY, you answer takes on a completely different dynamic — great businesses think differently!

In order to address this difference in motive, you need to approach your answer with the needs and wants of your customer, both now and in the future. Think “outside in” as opposed to “inside out.” The word really added to the question challenges you to go beyond the physical offerings of your products or services and really take a deep dive into the benefits your customers receive by choosing you over your competitors.

Business Transformation: Real World Example #1

Unless you’ve lived in the dark ages for the past 20 years, you’ve probably come across Pizza Express, the global chain founded in 1965 by Peter Boizot with some 500 plus restaurants to their name.

The One Question You Should Ask To Unlock Your Business Transformation

Naturally, your first instinct is to say they’re in the business of selling pizzas. And that’s not entirely incorrect. Yet part of their initial staff induction at Pizza Express is to coach them in the history and culture of the restaurant. They don’t just sell pizza. When asked what business they are ’really’ in their response is ….’Feeding great conversations since 1965’.

You see, your product is just your license to trade, and in the case of Pizza Express, it is a catalyst to selling an experience or memory. Your base product has to be great in the first instance as mediocrity will never give you an edge over better products. But a great product, teamed with a great client experience is a winning formula.

Business Transformation: Real World Example #2

Take for example Steve Jobs and Apple. In 1997, Steve Jobs took over Apple Inc. as the interim CEO, where he launched the iconic ‘Think different’ marketing campaign. This campaign was revolutionary in that it did not just promote the newest product offering Apple had put out in the market.

No. The “think different” campaign was so much more. It was the emotional experience and philosophy behind WHY they created their innovative products and the WHY of their client base. It fundamentally become the core values of Apple.

Apple’s mission statement isn’t just that they’re in the business of technology, but their mission and vision statement since 1980 was “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”

The One Question You Should Ask To Unlock Your Business Transformation

Business Transformation: Real world example #3

Karan Bilimoria, founder of Cobra beer talks about the difference of knowing what business he was really in, in his book — Bottled for Business : The Less Gassy Guide to Entrepreneurship. Cobra beer was created by Bilimoria as a smooth lager for drinking with Indian meals; It was less gassy than other market-leading beers, meaning that the drinker had more room to finish their meal and didn’t feel as bloated.

The One Question You Should Ask To Unlock Your Business Transformation

Although this proposition seemed great, it compelled its own list of challenges. The beer was only ever sold in 660 ml bottles, double that of the average beer restaurant owners had previously sold, and Bilimoria insisted of a minimum order of five cases, with each of those cases being ever slightly more expensive than the competition.

Karan’s argument against all these objections was that Cobra was in fact NOT in the beer business, but rather something different. The secret of his product was the smoothness, and the unique selling point for potential customers — Indian restaurants in the southern counties of the UK.

When he started out selling Cobra, e would knock on restaurant doors, ask for the owner and subsequently place a beer in front of them, explain that it was less gassy and much less filling than other beers, meaning customers would be more likely to either order more food, naan bread or extra rice, or even order more beers.

You see, Bilimoria fully understood that he was in the business of helping Indian restaurants sell more curries, increase profits and put more money in their pockets. He was NOT in the business of beer.

Apply this single question to any organisation, department or team

There’s an extensive list of companies that have transformed their product of service offerings and created new commercial opportunities for themselves, just by asking ‘what business are we really in?’

This question can be applied to any organisation to capture the WHY of that business. But it’s not just business leaders and owners that must comprehend the answer to this question; when every single member of a team or business is aligned to knowing precisely what business they are really in, it will drive consistency and alignment of behaviours and values.

You can apply this internally too, to the individual departments within your business and watch as the individual functions align towards accelerated business growth, acquiring and maintaining customers, and unlocking a deeper level of understanding in your customer behaviours of why they choose you.

Apply this thinking across your business and all of a sudden your HR department is not just developing processes, but is the business of unlocking people potential; your finance department is now delivering insights beyond the figures to help the business make more informed and empirically validated decisions that align with the overarching business growth strategy.

The One Question You Should Ask To Unlock Your Business Transformation

Look at any department in any business and compare the pure functional services they provide with that of the underlying benefits of those services, and miraculously, you could stimulate and excel their enthusiasm and excitement for your business.

So, what business are you really in?

Like this blog?  Check out the business transformation and growth series….

How to write a strategic marketing plan

10 business growth drivers or derailers

4 components of the customer experience you should know

5 steps to building a compelling value proposition

Sales forecasting & Planning: 4 things you should know

Why a cash management strategy is vital for business growth

Market Size: 13 questions to help you define the opportunity

How to write a strategic marketing plan

The importance of getting to know your people

The 11 most common business process challenges and how to defeat them 

Which kind of leader are you?

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