Maybe the unexamined life is not worth living,
but the examined life is no picnic, either. Peter DeVries
Before the brainstorming, before the marketing plan, before the competitive analysis, positioning, market research, web copy, sales deck, data sheets, new brochure, campaign…before I do much of anything, I like to get a new client to answer some questions for me. They’re not really FAQ’s, since most of them don’t get asked all that frequently. They’re more along the lines of PAQ’s, where the P can stand for privately. Or peskily. Or painfully asked questions.
What they aren’t is “P” for public consumption. No, while some of them are public facing questions and answers, they’re really my attempt to get a company to think very carefully about who they are, what they have, and who they want to be. Only by working through these questions can I really help the company with its marketing strategy and planning.
Just what are these PAQs? For starters, I always begin with the seemingly obvious and easy ones:
- What does Acme do?
- Who are their customers?
- What products does Acme offer?
- How are these products differentiated from their competitors?
- What benefits do Acme’s products bring?
- Why do customers buy from Acme?
- Who is the ideal customer?
- What is Acme’s most important product? Least important?
- What’s the current revenue mix? How do you see that changing? How do you want it to change?
Etc., etc. I keep asking questions until I've exhausted everything I want to know about the client's company, products, market, raison d'etre...
While these may seem startlingly obvious, working through questions like this often forces a company to grapple with issues that they’ve been skirting. (Hmmm, is Acme a software company or a consulting firm or both?) Sometimes the answers are revealing. (Gee, we’ve finally got to admit that we depend more than we’d like on consulting revenue, and would like to shift the mix to more software sales over the next year.) It’s not that my customers aren’t smart, thorough, and thoughtful – it’s just that it’s helpful all around to ask similar questions of yourselves once every year or so. The answers help direct marketing positioning and program activities so that they’re in keeping with a company’s reality and aspirations.
Effective PAQs can demand painful answers on painful questions, but I ask them anyway. Better I should ask them than some potential investor, a customer, a prospect, or an analyst.
If a company’s been in business for two years and only has three customers, I expect an explanation. If they’ve been in business for ten years and haven’t grown at all, I want to know why. If a company’s experiencing recurring losses, just laid off half of its employees, run through a succession of CEOs…. tell me all about it. If a company’s an obvious candidate for an exit strategy, what is it?
PAQs help companies figure out what they really want out of life. And they help me figure out how marketing’s going to help get them there.