24 Aug 2020

In my last blog – “Pain + Reflection = Progress’ we looked at the impact of the pandemic and how this time could be an opportunity to reflect, think and ‘think differently’ in order to challenge assumptions and recognise that new approaches are needed.

This new blog (posted in 3 separate parts) features a number of ideas that could encourage Sales, Operations and HR/Training leaders to look at the bigger picture and shape new behaviours that drive long term results and draws inspiration from Simon Sinek’s famous book ‘Start with Why’.

Start with WHY…

Sinek’s TEDx talk ‘Start with why – How great leaders inspire action’ has had over 7.1 million views on YouTube and features the flipchart drawing of ‘the Golden Circle’

Anyone that has seen the YouTube clip above will know how he challenges a typical sales push approach of:

This is WHAT we do…

This is HOW we are better or different from the competition…

This is WHY you should buy…

He then suggests the ‘WHY’ should be the starting point of the process with the mantra ‘People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it..’ 

The ‘WHY’ is the reason people buy and the ‘WHAT’ represents the tangible products or solutions we offer. ‘HOW’s’ are the unique selling points or value propositions that explain why or how our solutions are a good customer fit.

He uses Apple as an example of a successful company that uses the ‘start with WHY’ tactic. However, that wasn’t always their approach.

Did Apple always get it right?

In 1983, Apple launched ‘LISA’ one of the first computers with a Graphical User Interface (GUI) and mouse. It was advertised in the NY Times with 9 pages of listed feature rich content written in techno babble. Although the computer was a technical marvel it was a total flop sale wise.

Steve Jobs left Apple not long after and bought Pixar from Lucas Film. He regularly challenged the Pixar teams’ approach, encouraged innovative thinking and in return brought CGI and storytelling to life …and for anyone that has seen it,  ‘Toy Story’ changed the movie going experience for ever.

When Jobs returned to Apple in 1996, he was a changed man and had developed a different approach to both leadership and product marketing.

Apple became customer centric, compelling and clear in its communications. The first product launch on his return filled billboards all over America with just two words ‘Think Different’ alongside the Apple logo, no techno babble at all.

Different thinking…

Apple had simplified its communications to make it more relevant to prospective customer needs, they had:

  • Identified what customers wanted
  • Defined the challenges customers faced
  • Offered a solution that allowed customers to express themselves

Each of these approaches have their roots in the foundations of storytelling. Perhaps the years working on animated stories at Pixar had influenced Jobs approach to marketing by telling stories that were easy for the customer to follow and understand.

The ‘Think Different’ campaign and ‘Thinking Differently’ have propelled Apple to become the first company to be worth $2 trillion on the US stock market.

Exploring HOW…

So how can we use Apple and Sinek’s approaches within our own businesses? Part 1 of this series of blogs explores the ‘HOW’ from a Sales perspective, Parts 2 and 3 will consider Operations and the HR/Training environment.

A lot of sales pitches start with WHAT’s and some HOW’s, presenting lots of features because that’s what customers want and ask for (isn’t it?) and makes your solution offering difficult to differentiate from competitors.

The impact of ‘WHAT’ on the brain…

The ‘WHAT’ approach triggers the brains neocortex, the area of the brain that is responsible for rational/analytical thought and language – it can analyse and process large amounts of data but doesn’t drive behaviour.

The area of the brain responsible for all human behaviour and decision making is the limbic brain – it’s where all emotions reside and triggers feelings like trust and loyalty. Your prospects need to see a clear distinction between what they are already doing and what you are proposing.

Starting with ‘WHY’ and ‘what we believe’ taps into our instinctive drive to position products/solutions as representations of our values and beliefs. Customers feel special, have a sense of affiliation and become brand ambassadors, they have confidence in your product/solution and the decision to buy ‘feels’ right.

A ‘Golden Circle’ example…

So, what does the ‘Golden Circle’ approach look like in practice when trying to attract new sales? Here’s another Apple example:

Creative, a technology company were the first to the market with an mp3 player, they marketed their offering as a ‘5GB mp3 player’… ‘WHAT’ the product was. 

Apple came into the market not long after with the iPod, their marketing strap line was ‘A 1000 songs in your pocket’ … ‘WHY’ the customer should buy it, the rest is history.

Impact of the pandemic on sales and salespeople…

The impact of the pandemic on sales teams can provoke an undeniable amount of anxiety:

  • How have my customers been impacted by the situation?
  • Will my contacts still have a job?
  • Will they have budget or make budget cuts?
  • Will I still have customers?
  • What happens if there’s another lockdown?

Anxiety is the body’s natural threat response system, if we feel a sense of danger the brain sends out a series of signals to the body resulting in the fight or flight response. Worry is a component of anxiety symptoms. Worry becomes damaging when we expect worse case scenarios, however if you use your concerns to help you stay focussed it can serve you well.

Whilst we might not have experienced anything to the scale of the current situation there will always be some sort of market challenge. Clear thinking and reviewing sales strategy can help us make better decisions and realise there are always opportunities, we just have to step back, re-group, analyse our approach and be open to them.

So what can we do about it?

One area that generates new ideas and creates a lot of discussion with sales teams I work with is re-visiting the sales process. Mapping out each step and re-thinking approaches with a focus on value creation. 

From who is the ideal customer, finding a correct approach, creating value propositions for each level of contact to developing questioning strategy, identifying potential objections, closing and more importantly …. what you can focus on right now to generate business. 

A sales team working together, developing new skills and sharing best practice creates a motivational environment in even the toughest of times.


Let’s face it most buyers do not like sales pitches, they too may be feeling anxious in the current economic climate and their contempt for being sold to will only increase. Providing industry insight, new ideas and approaches they might not have thought about builds trust and creates value.

If you haven’t contacted your customers in a while now is the perfect opportunity, listen to them, give encouragement and help them get through these extraordinary times. Your investment in contacting them might just help plant the seeds for long term commitment.

‘Our goal is to achieve yours…”

We like to get to the root cause of any challenge faced and work with you and your teams to develop creative solutions that generate results!

To explore these ideas further, drop me a mail or comment under this post.