What Are You Trying to Accomplish?
by Michael L. Perla

"What are you trying to accomplish?" This is the first question I invariably end up asking when I am in front of a client. We all know the adage, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there." As a corollary, if you don't know what someone is trying to accomplish, how do you know if they're successful. You don't. It seems to be a basic premise, but many people, especially within large bureaucratic organizations, often get so lost in the details and tactics of an initiative or project or problem that they lose sight of the "forest from the trees."

Once I am satisfied with an answer to my first question, then I inevitably ask the obligatory "Why?" As much as the technique of asking "Why?" five times is talked about, it rarely seems to be used in practice. Think common sense v. common practice. In most businesses, the end of the 5 why's will eventually get you down to a variant on the following basic business conclusion: I want to add value to my customers and be able to consistently satisfy them by quickly and effectively adapting to meet their changing needs.

With that conclusion in mind, let me break down the sentence with a series of questions (Note: I would ask "why" 5x after each question as well) you can use to facilitate and engineer a solution to the basic business dilemma of satisfying your customers, which will eventually "throw off" profit to the organization.

"Add Value"

  1. What do your customers value?
  2. What criteria do your customers use to determine value?
  3. What do you do that your customers value most? Least?
  4. Where is customer perceived value migrating?


  1. Describe each of your customer segments?
  2. What benefits are each of your customer segments looking for?
  3. What customer segments are growing the fastest? The slowest?
  4. Why do your customers defect to the competition? Why do they stay loyal?


  1. Describe each situation in which your prospects/customers interact with your company?
  2. How do your customers want to interact/transact with your company?
  3. What structures are set up so that you can consistently listen to your customers?
  4. What are customers' experiences at each company touch point?


  1. What are the satisfaction drivers of each customer segment?
  2. Why are some customers more or less satisfied than others?
  3. How does customer satisfaction relate to customer loyalty and cash flow?
  4. Which customers do you most need to satisfy given their importance to the company?

"Quickly and Effectively"

  1. What customer feedback mechanisms are in place?
  2. How quickly does customer feedback get translated into action?
  3. What customers should you be listening to the most?
  4. How is effectiveness measured in terms of the customer?


  1. What is the process for acting on customer feedback?
  2. How is customer feedback incorporated into current goals and objectives?
  3. What change management processes are in place to facilitate adaptation?
  4. Why was adaptive change successful in the past?

"Changing Needs"

  1. What do your customers want?
  2. What do your customers need?
  3. What events or patterns correlate with the changing needs of your customers?
  4. What can you do to anticipate the changing needs of your customers?

It's clear that these questions are not inclusive, nor are they sufficient in terms of understanding the financial dynamics of the organization, but they are a good first step in starting a dialogue around customer value drivers, company adaptation, and customer wants and needs. As Peter Drucker says, the only value of a business is to create value and innovate. Without a crystal clear understanding of how the value determiners, your customers, perceive and value what you offer, the ability to effectively, profitably, and consistently meet their needs becomes an uphill battle.

Michael L. Perla is a Senior Consultant with a leading Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software company. This article solely represents the thoughts and opinions of Michael L. Perla, and not the company in which he is currently employed. Michael has worked with numerous Fortune 500 companies in helping them to define and design their go to market strategy, build a business case, or better align their core business processes and strategic direction. In a former life, Michael worked as a School Psychologist. Michael's personal web site, including his email address, is located at http://www.michaelperla.com .

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Copyright 2002 by Michael L. Perla. All rights reserved.

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