What business are you REALLY in?

Man with a question markWhen clients ask me to help them with customer service issues, they are often surprised (and a little annoyed) when I ask them a question about what business are they really in. Now I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m just trying to help them identify—at an emotional level—the specific need they are satisfying with their product or service.

Because once you identify what business you are really in, you will automatically know the core promise your brand is making to your customers.

You’d think this little question would be easy to answer, but I can tell you from experience—it’s not. Here’s how the conversation typically goes:

Me:  “What business are you really in?

Client:  “What business am I really in?!  I’m in (fill in the blank.)”

Me:  “No, that’s what you do.  I’m asking about the emotionally compelling need you satisfy.  What emotional comfort do you provide for your clients?”

There are usually some awkward moments of silence.  Finally, I’ll typically step in with some examples, such as:

  • Aren’t insurance companies really in the “peace of mind” business?
  • Isn’t Disney really in the “happiness” business?
  • And what about fast food chains?  Sure, they serve food, but aren’t they really in the “consistency” business?  Think about it. No matter where you are on the planet, you know that your McDonald’s Big Mac, Burger King Whopper, Starbucks Caramel Macchiato, or KFC Extra Crispy Chicken are going to taste exactly the same as they do in your town. Isn’t that the real need that fast food establishments satisfy?

Now it’s your turn

So—what business are you really in?  Take a minute to consider the emotional need you satisfy for your customers.  Look beyond the actual product or service you are providing—look at the big picture. Think about the emotional need your product or service satisfies.  That’s where your brand promise lives.

When organizations get off track, it’s usually because they lose sight of the bigger picture.  Don’t let the day-to-day tactical requirements obscure the real business you are in. Think bigger—and talk to your teammates about it, too.  Together I’ll bet you’ll find some insight—and you’ll have a better handle on the core promise you are making to your customers every day.

About the author:

Ann Phillips is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies.  You can read Ann’s posts as a part of our customer service series that appears twice montly.

8 thoughts on “What business are you REALLY in?

  1. Arent’ we all in the Energy Business….??? Are we adding energy to our organization or are we taking energy out of our organization? I would hope that we all foster an environment where each member of our team adds energy and together we create a symbiotic, synergistic organization that pushes the boundaries of perpetual motion.

  2. Great post, Ann. Look at Apple. When Scully took over, Apple had three CEOs in a row who didn’t understand what business Apple was in. The company was one quarter away from insolvency when the board brought Jobs back in. He reestablished clarity about the business Apple was in and created one of the greatest business successes in history. Proof that you are right.

  3. Ann, I’m delighted that you liked our book Full Steam Ahead! Unleash the Power of Vision so much that you used our examples in your post. Understanding what business you’re in clarifies your purpose. When you pair this with values that support your purpose and a picture of what it looks like when you are living your purpose and fulfilling your values, you have a powerful vision that will provide ongoing guidance. You might enjoy this blog post I wrote a couple of years ago at the time of the release of the 2nd edition of Full Steam Ahead, as it further illuminates this topic: “Help Your Team Get Unstuck: Ask What Business Are You Really In?” http://seapointcenter.com/the-numbers-police/

    • Hey There Jesse,
      Good to hear from you. Thanks for reminding me the origin of “What Business Are You Really In?” I’ve been crediting Raving Fans with the concept.
      Hope you are well and enjoying retirement…at least from Blanchard.
      Thank you also for sharing your blog as well.


      Sent from iPhone. Please forgive errors.

      E. Ann Phillips | Sr. Consulting Partner, Speaker | W: 760 728 6000 ext 5358 | M: 760 670 6488 | ann.phillips@kenblanchard.com

      The Ken Blanchard Companies®
      The Leadership Difference.™

  4. Pingback: Question Everything | The Leading ed-GE

  5. As Tax Practitioner for Employees earning formal salaries and contracting income , what business am I really in?

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