Five Whys (Issue 1037)

In which we are reminded that we find more benefits that really matter if we ask “why?” more than once.

Beautiful day here last Friday. Sunny skies, just a light breeze. The afternoon temperature reached 36 degrees Fahrenheit. Felt like a warm day. I happened to be working from home and I thought, “I think I’ll just wash the car.” Two days before, the city and state road maintenance crews had laid salt on the roads to melt an overnight snowfall and, from the waist down, my steel-gray car was white with dried salt spray. Not a good look.

I put on my slush boots, went down to the basement, prepared a bucket of warm, bio-degradable sudsy water and a bucket of clean water, found my microfiber washing mitts, hauled the two buckets up to the driveway, then snagged and filled the green plastic garden watering can from the outside faucet.

The car roof looked OK so I started with the hood and the trunk. Sprinkle water from the watering can onto the surface so it’s thoroughly wet. Swish the washing mitt in the sudsy water and, with broad circular motions, clean the surface. Retrieve the watering can, rinse the soap off. Rinse the mitt in the “clean” bucket. Grab the microfiber towel and dry the just-cleaned surface. Move on to the next section of the car and repeat. The whole procedure took me about 45 minutes.

[I use the watering can rather than a hose to reduce the amount of water in the driveway which, in the winter, can freeze and create a hazard.]

In the middle of this performance, a neighbor walked by the end of the drive way and called out, “What are you doing?” [A lame opening yet enough to start conversation.]

“Washing my car.”

“Yah, but it’s whatever it is, 35 degrees. Why don’t you take it to the car wash?”

“Thanks for the thought. I prefer this way.”

“You’re crazy!” And off he went, continuing his walk.

My inner voice went nuts at that point, imagining my neighbor as the owner of the local automatic car wash where an assortment of giant brushes, sponges, cloths, and hoses work on the car.

Picking up where we left off: “You’re crazy!” He paused and, then, continued:

“Listen, I own a car wash. There’s nothing I like better than to see someone who likes a clean car. Admirable quality, I say, an admirable quality. But winter hand washing is nuts. Your pants are wet. Your hands are cold, just look at ‘em. Takes you 45 minutes or an hour to do the job and I’m sure you have better things to do… how’s your company getting along, anyway? A lot of people come to my car wash. We must be doing something right or they wouldn’t come, would they? We’ll put your car through our system and it’ll come out the other side in three minutes, clean, shiny from the liquid wax we spray on it to protect the finish, and it’ll cost you, maybe, $20. You’ll love the way your car looks and think about what your time is worth. We’re a bargain.”

I think, if that guy were actually my neighbor, I’d have to move.

How about, this, instead, picking up just before “You’re crazy?”

“Winter by-hand car washing can be pretty uncomfortable. Why do you prefer it?”

“Automatic car washes have scratched the paint on my previous cars. I don’t like the paint scratches.”

“Why else?”

“I can see spots that need extra attention and take care of them.”

“I get that. Why is that important?”

“Because, that way, the car will look better now and in the long run.”

“Yep, I have several friends who go that route. Why is “the long run” important to you?”

“No car payments for several years. Less maintenance expense.”

“I can see that. And, why else?”

“I feel better because I’m taking care of my things.”

OK, so we’ll stop here, after fifth “Why?”. Any more digging on that is for my coach to address, not my imaginary car wash guy.

The point is, we get deeper into benefits that really matter if we take the time to ask five or more “Why?” questions.

No “why?” or one “why?” risks a pitch wide of the mark.

Nick Miller and Clarity train banks and bankers to attract and develop deeper relationships with small businesses. Many more Sales Thoughts like this and a host of other articles and resources at .


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