What’s your Why

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it

This is the theme of a TED talk and book by Simon Sinek – one of the most viewed in the TED series. It is a concept I have frequently used in helping advisors develop their value propositions. I have referred back to Sinek several times in recent engagements so I thought it seemed like a good time to share it with you.

“Why” connects with people. If you perform functions as a job, your customers may listen and consider whether to do business with you. If what you do is a mission, people with similar values or interests will connect with you, have an attachment to you, and be motivated to work with you. “Why” creates an emotional bond. “Why” puts persuasive power behind what you have to say. It motivates.

Sinek uses the example of Dell versus Apple. Dell made an MP3 player. It had lots of storage, lots of capabilities, and no customers. Why would anyone buy a music player from a computer company? And yet a huge number of us own an iPod. Dell is a great computer company. And the way Dell attempted to sell its MP3 player was describing capabilities and features. In contrast, Apple has a passion in everything they do to challenge the status quo. To think different. To create insanely great experiences. It just so happens that they did it by making computers. Then they turned their attention to music. Then phones. Lots of people were interested in a great new experience when it came to their music. They signed up in droves when the iPod was announced.

Lots of advisors do retirement planning for teachers. They can tell you all about the state pension system, 403B accounts, early distribution rules, and catch-up provisions. One advisor I know had a relative who was a teacher her whole life. When it was time for her to retire, she spoke with the tax-sheltered annuity rep who advised her that when you retire you annuitize your contract. Tragically, she passed away less than two years after retiring. The family asked the insurance company what remained to be distributed. The answer was nothing – the contract would pay her for the rest of her life, however long that turned out to be. That experience drove this advisor into the business and became his Why. He spent a career saying to teachers “if you’re the kind of person who wants to decide how fast to use your savings and who or what you want it to go to if there is something left when you pass away, I am dedicated to showing you how.” For many years he was in the top 10 of an organization of thousands of advisors. Teachers bought why he did it.

“Why” speaks to people’s needs and desires. You may know that a particular prospective client needs a plan or a particular strategy but often they don’t know that. When you talk about features and benefits clients may not connect them to what it is they believe they want. But talk about their “why” and they will relate. Sinek gives a brilliant example by rewriting a TiVo advertisement. Like Dell, TiVo talks about features and benefits. It talks about what their machines will do. You can save programs to view later. You can backup and replay portions of them. Who buys something like that? Rather than talk about what the machines will do, Sinek suggested leading off with “if you are someone who wants total control over your television experience, have we got something for you.”

If you have a strategy for reducing volatility in a portfolio, don’t talk about limiting fluctuations or mitigating risk or having a beta of .6. Say “if you lose sleep when the market starts swinging around, we have a strategy for you.” Once you capture their imaginations you will get a chance to tell them about features and benefits.

Your value proposition, your elevator pitch, should be about the “why.”

As Sinek says: the goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe. Will clients be inspired to refer you because of what you do? No. Lots of other advisors do all those things, too. Will they refer because of how you do it? Some will. But if clients have a clear understanding of why you do it they will tell their friends “call my advisor – she’s one of us. She believes what we believe.”

Consider what you tell people when they ask what you do. Are you telling them what you do? Or are you showing them why you do it? If they believe what you believe, they will be drawn to you and want to work with you.


  1. Marty MoruaJanuary 22, 2015


    Its NOT about the money for some financial advisors. It goes deeper and clients can feel that when an advisor speaks to them.

    Great messaging Stephen!

    Marty Morua

  2. Stephen WershingFebruary 7, 2015


    You are correct. Although many advisors fail to communicate their passion because they bury it in the jargony cliche-ridden language they THINK they are supposed to say. Focusing on the "why" and less on the "how" can help them get that passion across more effectively.

    Thanks for the comment!



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