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People don’t buy what you do…they buy why you do it

April 6, 2011 / 2 min read

A friend recently sent me a presentation Simon Sinek gave based on his book, Start With Why. In it, he asks a question that many of us have asked ourselves time and again: Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others?

To answer it, Sinek turns to something he’s dubbed “the golden circle.” Picture a series of three concentric circles. In the center of the middle circle is the word “why.” The second circle contains the word “how.” The outside circle contains the word “what.”

Every organization in the world knows what it does. Some know how they do it (this is typically the value proposition or proprietary process). But, short of “to make a profit,” very few know why they do what they do—their purpose. Sinek says that most organizations make their way from the outside in, from the clearest component (what we do) to the fuzziest (why we do it). The most successful, most innovative organizations, on the other hand, move from the inside out, starting first with a purpose.

He uses Apple as an example. Apple could communicate like this: “We make great computers that are beautifully designed and easy to use…want to buy one?” A lot of companies do this; they say what they do and what they believe differentiates them and expect a call to action. Instead, Apple communicates like this: “We believe in challenging the status quo in everything we do. We think differently. The way we do this is by making beautifully designed computers that are easy to use…want to buy one?” He argues that this is why we’ll buy anything from Apple—computers, MP3 players, etc., versus a company like Dell that makes great products yet, when they announced their own MP3 player, nobody was interested.

For Sinek, it comes down to this: People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. Watching this presentation reminded me of Plante & Moran’s core purpose: to be a caring professional firm deeply committed to our clients’ success. It also reminded me of co-founder Frank Moran’s dream of our firm as a sort of Mayo Clinic, with talented people lined up on one side of the building wanting to work with us and prospective clients lined up on the other wanting to be served by us.

Do clients have a greater desire to work with us because of that purpose and our philosophies? I believe they do. Yes, we provide audit, tax, and consulting service, but first and foremost, we care. That’s why we do what we do, and it’s been a compelling differentiator for our firm since 1924.

What are your thoughts on the presentation? What is your “why”—the purpose behind doing what you do?

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