Asking about business goals? Yeah ok, but give a bit of warning, eh.

Mar 19, 2021 | Marketing, Strategy

Tell me about your goals?

When unpicking a B2B commercial strategy, a common theme is to find out the business goals. After all, if we’re going to be building a plan, then it makes sense to know what the direction of travel needs to be.

Here’s the thing. If we’re talking about SMEs and the person we’re working with is the founder and/or business owner, then talking about goals has the potential to be a pretty sensitive topic. There’s likely an overlap between person and business. Indeed, ‘overlap’ is kind, it’s often more like a complete tangle of hopes, dreams and reality. 

As a marketer, having knowledge of goals is one key foundation for all that comes next. Arguably, it’s up there on a level of importance on a par with brand, product and customer profile. But going in and asking about goals straight off the bat can be a really bad move. Been there, done that.

Goal setting is not the work of a moment

Why? Because knowing and clearly articulating goals is a considerable task. How many people carry around their five year goals in their consciousness, ready to recite at a moment’s notice? 

Exactly. Goals are hard, goals are important. Goals take time to think through.

If that same marketer goes in with the big bad goals question right at the start of a workshop and the business owner doesn’t give an instant answer then it’s likely they’ve just been made to feel uncomfortable and awkward. Well done. 

What’s even worse is if it’s public and it all happens in the presence of their wider team. This is not the way to kick off a smooth working relationship. Slow clap.

Timing, Priming and Deciding

The key here is to give a heads-up in advance. Pre-warn that this discussion is going to take place, make it clear why this is part of the process and what end it will then serve. 

A heads-up on its own probably won’t be enough. It’s in our interest to both make the process go smoothly and get to the bottom of what really matters. This can be done by pre-priming with some questions to chew over in the days before the meeting.

For some reason, there can be a tendency to ask about the business goals first and then ask about personal goals, almost like an afterthought or box ticking exercise. Flip this around, find out about the person first, then their business. 

So what kind of questions can get things flowing?

Start with the person and what matters to them. What would they like to achieve in terms of time, health and wealth. The answers that come back are very personal and can vary hugely.

From there, transition into questions about the business. How is the business supporting (or not) those personal goals?

Now we are up and running and can get into the bigger ones. Just like an athlete, a bit of stretching and warm up at the start pays dividends later on.

I recently read ‘The GLOSS Method’ from Go Proposal and it has the best ‘opener question’ I’ve seen so far and is an ideal place to launch from.

“What would a perfect week look like to you?”

Deciding is all about prioritising. If done right, the biggest challenge is the sheer volume of information that is generated from discussions. A whole list of goals have been identified along with their accompanying challenges that now need resolved. Here again, the right questions can start to provide a guide to what really matters. 

There are some classics like what is the one thing that would make a difference or if we only fix one thing what would it be but I don’t find they always get to the real answers. However asking this is always illuminating: 

“What would happen if nothing changes?”

More often than not, this is the exact eventuality we are trying to avoid and our efforts should be focused on entirely the opposite direction.

Out of the comfort zone but not publicly uncomfortable

Goal setting conversations are typically done early in what will hopefully be a long and productive working relationship. Having awareness that there is a difference between pushing beyond the comfort zone and just making someone plainly uncomfortable is key. 

Start by giving this conversation a little bit of time to breathe and then build the questions progressively. In doing so, avoid the awkward moments and get the answers required to underpin the strategy.