5-by-5: Revisiting the Cliché Questions

I’ve written here previously about the “5 Cliché Questions“, why I ask them, and why you should be able to answer them.

Let’s take a closer look at them and what each of them means for your company.

What’s Your Strong Point?

This should be the easiest to answer.  It’s usually, however, the one that I most often see answered “wrong”.  The two most common mistakes I see are

  1. Tossing out a bunch of buzzwords and thinking it’s an answer
  2. Talking about things they like, rather than what makes them strong

Your strength needn’t be something that is market-facing.  It doesn’t even need to be something that the public knows about at all.   It may be that the founding partners have a life-long friendship.  Perhaps you have excellent cross-department communication.  The diversity of your staff may give you insights that your competitors lack.  Or maybe you just won the lottery and have a bazillion dollars to get you through the difficult times.

Think about what makes your company strong.

Redleaf: Lack of dependency.  None of us depend on the group to succeed, so we are free to move at our own pace.

What’s Your Weak Point?

Nobody ever answers this one well.  And yet it’s the most important.

If you can’t accurately identify your weaknesses–or refuse to admit you have any–they’re going to cause you to fail.  A weakness might be in your company or in your product.  Perhaps you lack financial & accounting skills.  Maybe your product looks outdated or awkward.  Maybe you’re too old to understand what the younger market wants.  Or perhaps your product is better than what’s out there, but you’re going up against established companies.

If it’s a lack of knowledge or skill that’s an obstacle, the solution is simple:  Hire someone who has the knowledge and skills you need.  If you’re going up against established companies, change the game: Approach the market in a new and novel way.

Admit your weakness and work to overcome it.

Redleaf: Distance and distraction.  Because this is not our primary focus, it can get set to the side and forgotten.

What Do You Bring to the Market?

What will you give me?  What do you have that makes you worth my money?

This can either be an aspect of your product or an aspect of your company–but it is entirely market-facing.  This is something your customers can see and understand the value of.   Don’t lock yourself into thinking about it in terms of being “best” or “most innovative”, think instead about value.  Perhaps you can provide a product that is “sufficient and less expensive”, filling a niche that others ignore.  You might satisfy a nostalgia for an old product that’s no longer produced (but was well-loved).  Maybe you provide exactly the same product as someone else, but you do it will a smaller economic impact and a more progressive company outlook.

Find out what makes you valuable to your market–this is where you’ll be starting your marketing plan.

Redleaf: Local knowledge.  Our consultants understand markets as natives or long-term residents, depending on the view needed.

What Makes You Stand Out?

I’m the one in the t-shirt

This tends to be the question that most companies focus on.  It’s arguably the least important–because it’s often so obvious.  On the other hand, it’s often still answered wrong.

A frequent answer I hear is “we’re new and innovative”. Great. But that’ll only last a year or so–two at most. What makes you stand out after that?  I’ve seen companies tout the diversity of their staff as their big difference.  Diversity is wonderful–if it’s more than just a spectrum of skin colors (and companies across the board are becoming more diverse, so that will no longer be unique).

The answer to this question must be something that is clearly identifiable, quantifiable, and sustainable.

Redleaf: Secondary attention.  Because our main focus is our primary jobs, we are in-touch with current market trends and details1Yes, this is also our weak point. That’s one of the quirks of these questions–sometimes one aspect can conflict with itself. That’s okay, it’s how business works..

Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?

This has always been the question that annoyed me the most in interviews2Well… after “How much do you think your salary should be?”.  It’s a “trap” question and everybody knows it.  That’s part of the reason I like to turn it back on companies.  The other reason is that it actually makes sense in this context.

A business needs a business plan.  And a sales plan.  And a marketing plan.  Those plans will, by necessity, change as your company does.  But they all depend on one thing: Where do you want to be?  If you don’t have goals, you can’t map out how to reach them.

The key is to have realistic, achievable goals.

Redleaf:  A little more.  A few more consultants from a few more countries.  A few more clients bringing in a few more contracts.  But nothing that will take us away from our primary professions.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Yes, this is also our weak point. That’s one of the quirks of these questions–sometimes one aspect can conflict with itself. That’s okay, it’s how business works.
2. Well… after “How much do you think your salary should be?”

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