“Sell drugs!” I said, or at least that’s how I remember it.
I’ve told this story so many times over so many years that my memories of telling it are much stronger than my memory of living it and I’m no longer sure how much is truth and how much is myth. Here is what I am sure of: it was the late 90s and I was working as a Frame Relay/ATM engineer (back when that was a thing) at an IXC (back when those were a thing). I was in a meeting setup by the lead Product Manager over our FR/ATM products, the topic of which, and the question he had just posed, was: “How do we make more money?”
After what seemed to my younger, less patient self like an eternity, during which no one spoke, I said “sell drugs!” I was trying to break the silence with humor, but humor is generally followed by laughter, and that’s not what came next. Instead, everyone who wasn’t rolling their eyes looked right at me, at which point I felt the need to explain why “sell drugs” was a legitimate answer to the question in the hope of salvaging what was left of my only recently established credibility. The lead Product Manager mercifully interrupted me to explain that my “suggestion” was irrelevant to FR/ATM product growth, not to mention illegal, so it didn’t answer his question; to which I responded: “well you should have asked that instead.”
I learned a lot that day, including what not to say in meetings, but the most important thing I took away was Getting the Right Answers Means Asking the Right Questions! It might seem obvious when you read it or say it aloud, but chances are you’ve recently been in a similar situation where someone posed the wrong question and things took a wrong turn. They might have understood that they needed to ask the right question to get the right answer, but they failed to apply that understanding in the moment, leading everyone down a rabbit hole.
As a trusted advisor, my clients expect me to help them arrive at the right answers, which means asking the right questions, such as:
- How do we increase the take rate of our existing products in our existing markets (increase market share)?
- How do we expand our existing products into new markets (market expansion)?
- How do we leverage our core competencies to build new products for our existing markets (product adjacency)?
- How do we reduce the cost of our existing product (increase margin)?
Although I believe the meeting all those years ago survived my distraction and went on to generate a lot of great ideas, I don’t recall any of them today; just that question and my answer. Looking back on it, I realize that, by not asking the right question at the outset, that lead Product Manager might share some of the blame for my obnoxious answer. Then again, had he asked the right question, I probably would not have learned such a powerful lesson so early in my career.
At Ronin Technology Advisors getting our clients the right answers is of utmost importance to us, which is why we start by learning about their business and understanding their vision so we can ask the right questions. This process strips away pre-conceived notions and steers away from previous answers towards the right answers that will put them on the path to success. Have questions? Let’s talk!
Rob Johnson, VP of Products and Platforms