Simon Sinek’s thesis, “start with why,” is compelling, but flawed. He argues, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” I disagree.
Simon’s TED Talk and book are packaged remarkably well. He eloquently argues that “the why” is the primary differentiator of great brands and great leaders. He says, “The goal is not to do business with everybody that needs what you have. The goal is to do business with the people who believe what you believe.”
The argument is compelling, but buyer behavior proves otherwise. Values and beliefs do not shape purchase intent.
People buy “how”
People buy products and services to fulfill their needs. If you run out of toilet paper are you going to research the beliefs of paper manufacturers? I know I’m not. I’m going to Costco, and buying that super soft, 3-ply stuff.
Across every category buyers respond to functional concerns. How is this product or service better than other available options? They ask “how” questions, not “why” questions.
Emphasizing “why” confuses customers
Simon Sinek’s message is incredibly influential. Countless companies have worked to package their why, and incorporate it into their brand messaging.
Showcasing what your company believes may sound compelling, but it can confuse your customers. What are your customers looking for when they visit your website, or engage your sales people? What do they expect to find?
No one is shopping for why your company exists. They are shopping for what you do, how you do it, and how you will help them.
“Why” drives internal decisions
Understanding your company’s why is valuable. Companies make better decisions when they are self-aware.
By all means dig into the question and discover your company’s why. But don’t think for a second it will improve your sales. That’s not what your customers are buying.
Use your why to guide internal decisions, and shape your values. Use your how to engage your customers and drive sales.