Why “Why” Isn’t Enough: A critical analysis of Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why”
Simon Sinek’s TEDx Video, “Start With Why” has been circulated in many sales and marketing circles and largely applauded as being fresh, innovative and compelling. With over 48 Million views (TED and TEDx posting view numbers, combined) his talk has certainly been popular.
So I know it’s probably considered by many to be sacrilege and against convention to say that “Start With Why” is not one of the most amazing TEDx videos out there.
But the truth is Start With Why is not what it used to be.
I’ll concede that Start With Why is a great video and had it’s time and place. I’ve seen it number of times, and I even told others to go watch it.
But Start With Why is not the end-all be-all. We, as sellers and marketers, need to do more. Quite simply Start With Why, even if followed completely, is not enough to propel your business to great success.
Sinek’s message in Start With Why is very simplistic. And it’s one dimensional. It doesn’t really work in the real world.
So let’s take a minute and look at why Start With Why is not enough and what we need to do to kick things up to the next level.
If you haven’t seen the TedX clip of if you need a refresher you can check out a copy of Simon Sinek’s Start With Why right here by clicking this link. It’s definitely worth a watch and It’ll make this article make a lot more sense.
1) Is It Really That Simple?
In Start With Why Simon Sinek makes marketing seems so simple. You just need to get to the “why” you exist and suddenly buyers will emerge and become passionate about your product or service. He cites some famous failures and some famous successes and uses their “why” to differentiate them into the buckets of winners and losers.
But just like we can criticize Jim Collins’ Good To Great for selecting companies that already won — after the fact — at the time of publishing, Simon Sinek’s Start With Why does the same. We already knew that Apple had recently been very successful at the time he recorded. And we knew TiVo, who he throws under the bus, had been a failure.
There are probably tens and hundreds of companies that had very strong “whys” that struggled to sell. And there are also companies that failed that had very strong “whys”.
So it’s not as simple as just having a “why” to win in business. The why has to be connected to more. And so for this reason alone Start With Why is really an over simplified message.
2) Come On — Your Buyer’s Don’t Really Care
Ask a number of marketing and branding experts about the sales process and almost all of them will agree that the key to closing sales is the benefits to the buyer. They’ll tell you that too many sellers get caught up on the features of the product and not connecting the benefits to the buyer’s world.
If you go to sales training they’ll teach you to understand your buyers pain (a fancy word for their need) and that you, the seller, need to connect the benefit of your products or services to their particular need. So what does this tell us? It tells us to buyers care about their particular pains or needs not your “why”.
And while relationships are important in selling, the key to having a relationship is to learn about the buyer. The seller builds a relationship with the buyer so that they can get correct information about the buyer’s world. In other words to be a good listener.
But the why of the seller is all about the seller. Why the seller exists has little to no relevance on the buyer. And yes, some buyers will buy because of the characteristics of the seller. Think of eco-friendly, sustainable, green initiatives or other times where a buyer cares about what the seller is doing.
But in most cases the buyer wants a quality product or service meets their needs. Their analysis generally ends there. They don’t care about why the seller is selling. They care about how their needs being met.
Long story short most buyers really just don’t care about your why. They care about what you deliver.
3) The Real “Why” is Their Why
The “why” the buyer cares about is their why. Why did they need you? What needs do you fulfill.
Simon Sinek spends a lot of time talking about your “why” and communicating your why to the buyer. But sales is all about listening to your buyer and what their needs are and then finding solutions to their needs.
Making sure they get the right solution for their why.
So that’s the why we need to be focusing on. Why does our buyer want a product or service to fill a need in their situation?
We really need to be focused on their why and not our why.
4) Loyalties Are Changing
When start with why was recorded back in 2009, we lived in a different environment than we live in today. I could 2009 the market was less fragmented and moved a lot less quickly that it does today. Today we are used to products and services lasting very short periods of time. Cell phones are upgraded every year. The latest bands, YouTube Sensations and reality TV stars change almost monthly or weekly.
For the most part, with limited exceptions, most people don’t stay loyal. Sure, Simon Sinek did name one of the brands that people stay most loyal to, Apple, in his talk. But because one or two brands have built such a strong following based on their communication of their why does it mean this is going to work for the rest of us.
In the real trenches we have to know that our customers are going to come and go. And if our benefits, our ability to meet our customers why, doesn’t stay at the top of our market the customers will be gone to our competitors.
We need to deal with the reality of these changing loyalties and make sure that we stay the best. It’s not about us, it’s not about them. It’s about our customers needs and fulfilling it today. We need to know that that customer will be gone tomorrow if we don’t keep meeting their needs. Even if they love our why the customer will still go if their needs are better met somewhere else.
5) Smaller and Smaller Attention Spans
Another fundamental problem with Simon Sinek’s message in Start With Why is that in order to communicate your why your customer has to pay attention to you. They have to care about your why.
We’ve already discussed that it’s really about their why. And most customers just aren’t going to have the time or attention span, in today’s world, to listen to your why.
We are in the world of answers now. There have been studies that have shown people’s attention spans are getting smaller with time (and technology). People want answers immediately. This is one of the things Google prides itself on — providing answers that are relevant to the question asked and quickly. More answers, less time.
And in light of this world where relationships are less important and transactions are more frequent we need to understand that we can’t necessarily always burden our buyer with knowledge of our why.
Yes, there might be exceptions. In long sales cycles with deeper relationships the buyer might have time to get to know you and your why. But in many transactions today the buyer just wants their needs met. And they want them met now.
It’s a little presumptuous for us to think that our buyer will actually care about our why, what we want, or even what we care about in life.
Start With Why is really starting to show its age. It’s a fantastic message and I recommended all marketers study it to think about what lessons they can get from it. But the message is really dated.
In the modern era, where we are more and more buyer focused, and more and more immediate in our needs, many buyers aren’t going to have the time or inclination to get to know your why.
In the end we do need to start with why. But not the “why” that Simon Sinek talks about. We need to start with the why of our buyers, our customers and our audiences. Why does our product or service give them what they need right now. That’s the “why” that matters. And that’s why we need to service.
By: The Our Shawn McBride who is constantly studying the Future of Business as the host of The Future Done Right(TM) Show. If you want regular content on the future of business subscribe to get new blog posts from us here.
One of my recurring themes on Medium.com is looking at what words mean. Here are some prior articles on the subject:
And for some completely different topic from me check out Why I’ve Given Up On Work-Life Balance.