In my early business career as a banking VP, I thought I had to have all the answers. Then, starting my own company over two decades ago, and being blessed by mentors I consider business icons, including a close association the past few years with John C. Maxwell, author of over 74 books, multiple NY Times Best Sellers on Leadership, and training people in almost every nation across the globe, I’ve realized the true power lies in questions.

I’m giving you six powerful questions I know catapult results. Because they are so powerful, and it’s the pondering and simmering that create that burst of energy, I challenge you to WRITE your answers, not just do them as a mental exercise. Once you’ve written them, put them away for 30 days and come back to them. I guarantee your answers and your results will skyrocket.

1.  What is the one strength your company has that if properly leveraged would put you in a category of one where no competitor could even come close to you?

This is a HUGE question. Most petroleum marketers when asked about strengths think immediately of service. The trouble with that is that 95% of all marketers think their service is stellar and likely only 10% have service that is truly differentiated. That means 85% of all marketers are really lying to themselves. Carefully read the question again. It asks how you could become a category of one? Let that marinate awhile before you answer. Then, when you answer, immediately strategize how to telegraph that strength to the entire world!

2.  What is the strength your company doesn’t currently have, but needs to have, to survive the next five years?

I’m not trying to grab you by the throat, although it may feel that way, but your organization likely has an Achilles heel. And you need to do is pinpoint what it is. Our coaching program seems to provide a lot of ah-ha moments about what is missing, but let me give you a personal commonplace example.

Last week I called my local Ford dealer for service on my King Ranch F-250. The service adviser told me they no longer accept appointments. OK. So I asked, “How long would it take for you to do a diesel injector service?” He answered, “If you bring it in today we could probably get to it next week but we’re really backed up so I can’t guarantee a day.” “Excuse me? Did I hear you correctly? You want me to leave my truck with you sitting in your parking lot for days because you are backed up and you don’t take appointments?”

As you can imagine, that news didn’t sit well with me. I asked for the service manager I knew by name. He no longer worked there. Who is the service manager now? He wasn’t there. At an impasse, I was going to call him the next day, but wanting to get this off my list, I called another Ford dealer about 30 minutes further away.

Guess what happened on that call? I was able to set an appointment time and get a firm quote on both price and required time for the service. Yay! When I arrived, I simply gave my name, didn’t have to regurgitate my needs, the truck was whisked away and serviced within the time frame, the bill was as quoted, my truck was washed and I was thanked. This was exactly what I used to get from my old dealer until they decided to go no appointments. But now I put this on Facebook because I was thrilled!

I share this story with you only to demonstrate that my old Ford dealership, and any business for that matter, will not survive unless they gain a critical missing strength. My old dealer not only lost my maintenance business, but a sale when I buy my next new truck.
So what is the strength you will need going forward you don’t currently have?

3.  What bad employee do you need to upgrade immediately?

When I met with Delta President Ed Bastian, he said the biggest mistake he ever made was forgetting his people were his best asset, not his planes. Ed has led Delta back to being the most profitable airline in the world and leads 80,000 people so he’s worth listening to. I agree. People are the greatest asset, but only when they are great people!

Unfortunately, it’s extremely likely that not ALL your people are great, and by tolerating the less than great ones you drag your entire organization down. This question forces you to address who is not great in your organization. My personal goal is to become the dumbest person at my company. Seriously. I want all my leaders at Meridian to be smarter than me and then they get to fire me!

This upgrading question was punctuated for me when talking with one of my M-Power™ clients. He told me his CFO had been tolerating a less than stellar Credit Manager, and then dragging his heels on firing her (don’t we all do that until we learn better?). Last week the deed was finally done. He said it was like a breath of fresh air came in the office as her butt went out the door! We both laughed at that but I know it was how he really felt.

Who do you know in your heart of hearts needs to go? Get some courage and do it.

4.  Why do your best customers buy from you rather than your competitor?

I’m going to state the obvious – rather than guess yourself, ask your customers! The greatest benefit of concretely knowing the answer is you’ve just defined your brand positioning! I don’t mean your refiner fuel or lubes brand, I mean your unique messaging to the marketplace about your unique family business. You’ve just discovered the “WHY” that so many marketing messages miss.

Your customers have a “why” for choosing you and they have an outcome they love. Once you’ve discovered, defined and clearly articulated that into a marketing message, it’s incredibly powerful.

I received a beautiful silver bracelet and a heartfelt note from a client and his wife. My Meridian team had helped execute a stock sale of their business so a partner could exit. The client that sent the gift has his cash tucked away and is on an employment agreement for the next few years. He’s getting to continue to enjoy the company and industry he loves with his pennies safely in the bank. The note said, “thank you for allowing our dreams to come true.” I can’t tell you how much that choked me up. It’s the “why” I tell my team about but to see it in writing and feel that gratitude was thrilling.

What’s your why?

  5.  What are the top 10 reasons customers/prospects don’t buy from you (objections)?

Engage your team in answering this question. Yes, you write your ten. But then ask your team to give you their ten and see if their answers surprise you! Start with the entire company, but then drill down by division and location.

Next, develop ANSWERS to each of the ten. Warning – this could get embarrassing ugly because there are times you realize you need to make drastic changes. But you may also pleasantly surprise yourself that your customer/prospect objections are just smoke screens your people need to handle.

For instance, as we were completing our Focus on Competitive Advantage event, a new participant told me in over 43 years of attending petroleum events, it was THE best, and THE most valuable meeting he ever attended. He went on to brag that just a single idea he gained will pay 12 times his travel and tuition investment in just the first year. But, he almost didn’t attend. His objection? He “doesn’t have time.” If my team hadn’t been able to appropriately challenge and overcome this standard objection, he would have missed finding this profit opportunity.

Make sure everyone in your organization knows the top 10 objections to buying your products and services and is fully trained on the answers.

6. What is it in my personal leadership that constrains my company’s growth?

Ouch. Did I hit a nerve? When I was asked this question, it did for me. I had to fully admit and acknowledge that the only constraint to any organization’s growth, including my own company, is its leader. Every time. No exceptions. Oh shoot. That’s me! And that’s you!
John C. Maxwell calls this the Law of the Lid. An organization will never rise above the level of the leader. Think about it. When a public company gets in trouble, what’s the first thing the shareholders say? Fire the CEO. When an NFL team starts losing, what’s the public cry? Replace the coach! When a country isn’t doing well? Oust the President.

Like it or not, leadership is 100% responsibility for results. And it’s not your grandfather’s leadership anymore, where you are the boss and controlling. Did you know that Millennials (who hate authoritarian leadership) will be half the workforce in just four short years? So how has your leadership changed? The world is changing and if you don’t change, you will be left behind!

Darren Hardy, Success Magazine editor and now mentoring me as well, impressed on me that the one remaining true competitive advantage will be to develop leaders faster than your competition. I completely agree with him. And to develop leaders, you must start with yourself.

If just one comment or question in this article resonated with you, if you really want to take yourself and your organization to the next level, please pick up the phone and make an appointment to discuss your unique challenges and situation (817-594-0546) or if you prefer email, use [email protected] Let’s begin dialogue on how we might serve you, your family and your team.

PetroAnswers Tough Questions that Produce Amazing Business Results