Solve Rather Than Analyze

Is your business underperforming? If so, chances are high that your CFO or you as owner have determined that it is necessary to “manage the business by the numbers.” Reporting systems are put in place and monitored rigorously. I know this to be the pattern because I have observed turnarounds for over 20 years. It is predictable.  For some, the focus is on sales, for others, on leads, expenses, receivables, payables, etc…

What can be lost in the “shuffle” is necessary focus on what actions are necessary to change the patterns. So much effort is dedicated to capturing information, reporting information, and communicating information that not enough is given to improving performance. Simply noting what needs to change without the corresponding strategies and tactics, as well as daily behaviors, is not enough!

When the organization takes time to problem solve, innovation can occur. Instead of doing the same thing and expecting different results (insanity), new solutions need to be developed, new processes tired, new personnel invited to help develop solutions.

Paul Williams invites change managers to ask the question “How Might We…?” How might we drive sales? How might we drive traffic? Determine at least four “how might we” answers. Then, for each of those answers ask again “How might we…” Identifying at least four responses for each.

In his blog for the Idea Sandbox, Williams recommends the tool below to guide the exploratory process:

Let’s use the “How might we drive sales?” as an example.


How might we… drive more sales?

Here are four ideas…

  1. By building more awareness.
  2. By charging more to those already coming in. (Raise Prices)
  3. By getting existing customers to visit/buy more frequently. (Increase Frequency)
  4. Get people who come in to buy more than what they normally do. (Add-on Sales)


How might we… drive more sales?

Let’s take those first four answers and ask “how might we?” about each.

1) How might we… build awareness?

  • Do advertising.
  • Do PR.
  • Do community events.
  • Word of mouth: get current customers to tell others.

2) How might we… raise prices?

  • Increase prices across the board.
  • Increase price of most popular products.
  • Add perceived higher-tier items – that command a higher price point.
  • Remove lower-priced / smaller sized options from menu.

3) How might we… increase frequency?

  • Add items for a different time of the day / daypart (e.g. add breakfast).
  • Offer special in-store events to encourage non-traditional visits (e.g. art events, live music).
  • Run frequency-building consumer promotion(s).
  • Create / suggest additional uses for your product (e.g. baking soda for cleaning, cranberry sauce – not just for Thanksgiving).

4) How might we… get add-on sales?

  • Put impulse items near the cash register.
  • Offer add-on extended warranty / product insurance.
  • Show customers products that pair with and enhance what they normally buy.
  • Offer specials encouraging families and group sales.

Williams advocates that we continue to ask the “how” question to arrive at possible solutions. By repetition, more ideas surface. Though he stopped after two rounds of brainstorming (problem solving in this case), you need not feel limited except by the creativity of your team and amount of time you are willing to commit to the process. 

Even stopping at the point above, you notice that 16 potential solutions to enhance sales were generated. While not all of them will create the desired improvement, many will and the effort is way more valuable than perseverating on the problem, as organizations and their leadership teams are wont to do.

Move to action rather than “paralysis by analysis” and you will be better off!


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