The 5 W's in business: Definition, examples, and benefits

the_5Ws_in_business

The 5W’s in business is a simple and effective method that helps you analyze a context in a given situation. In a business context, this notion of project management helps you ask the right questions to understand a specific problem and answer it more efficiently.

It also allows teams to identify several factors, share the same vision of a situation and not go off-topic. Throughout this article, you will discover how the 5W’s method could be used in different business contexts and how you and your projects can benefit from it.

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5 W’s Method: Definition

5W’s is an acronym that stands for Who, What, Where, When, Why; some authors add a sixth question, how, to the list.

The 5 W’s is an analysis method, composed of several stages that question the fundamental characteristics of a situation. These simple questions provide factual elements that, once gathered, make it possible to render a universal representation of an event, interest, situation or context.

5ws-in-business

© Randall Reilly

This method is highly appreciated by journalists for its simplicity (it is only a list of questions to remember) and the universal representation it offers of a situation. It fully respects journalistic ethics, which aims to provide complete and objective information to all.

What are the benefits of the 5W’s Method?

The aim of this method depends on how it will be used. Here are a few examples in business that highlight the importance of applying this method:

Customer Relationship

In the context of customer relationship, the 5 W’s will help you to put yourself in the position of the customer. This will allow you to name the right products or services at the right time. This will let your company find out more about :

  • its target

  • its needs

  • the context that will influence its decision (budget, deadlines…)

If this method is used properly and the resulting prospecting or customer loyalty actions are well executed, then it is very likely that your business will gain in efficiency: higher conversion rate, lower customer acquisition cost, less human resources allocated per conversion...

Meeting Animations

In the context of a meeting inside of a company, the 5W’s main objective is to portray a vision of the topic of the meeting that will be shared by all participants.

Let's take the example of a meeting scheduled due to a drop in sales. The objective here for your company would be to put in place actions to increase revenue. The first step is, therefore, to become aware of the situation, to share this information in order to enter directly into the phase of solving the problem without hesitation. You will notice that in this example there is no room for irrelevant interventions:

  • Who: The business analyst gives us feedback on information that he observed
  • What: A decrease in turnover
  • Where: In 3 stores in the Paris region
  • When: Over the last 15 days
  • How: With a dashboard connected to the CRM software
  • How much: 30 000 $
  • Why: Wooden items sold less than in the previous 15 days.

Product Marketing and UX Design

Creating a product can be done without any contact with your clients if you have a perfect knowledge of their needs. If this is not the case (most of the time), then you will have to question yourself, or even your potential buyers in one way or another.

The 5 W’s method helps you identify the needs of your targets and you will, therefore, be able to offer them an item that is much more relevant to their needs than the competition. At the end of the day, it means more sales and an increase in market share.

Marketing

In marketing, the 5 W’s method is widely used to improve the relevance of actions. It is often implemented when KPIs (Key Performance Indicator) are not up to par. This often means that the marketing actions and campaigns of the company are not adapted to the audience.

“The 5 W’s method makes it possible to send better messages, more relevant items to a more targeted market by taking into account their individual context.”

Today, personalized marketing is a very strong trend driven by the collection of personal data, client demands, and legal and technical constraints to counter abusive marketing actions.

Communication

Like in marketing, this system makes you familiar with your target. It is frequent in this field to make a table with several columns for each type of target. In this case, it is called a persona (people representative of a customer segment), or a buyer persona.

Journalism

As we saw above, the 5 W’s method has been widely used in journalism since the beginning of the 20th century in the United States. This method makes it possible to create informative content as opposed to literary content that we are used to with novels and historical narratives

This method makes it possible to share technical, exhaustive, objective and verified information that is appreciated by readers who seek relevant information.

Human resources

From an HR point of view, this method could be used in business to have an overview of a crisis situation, or a major change in a company among employees for example (collective mobility to accompany a strategic change, social plan, important recruitment campaigns in the event of a growth...).

Project Management

The 5 W’s method is used in project management to report a situation to high-level project stakeholders within a company (senior management, client, etc.).

This method can be used during a pre-planning meeting as well to provide a quick and regular update. In this case, the 5 Ws facilitate the sharing of information and avoid misunderstandings.

Best practices to use the 5 W’s

To make this method to work efficiently, you must :

  1. Ask all and only the questions that are really relevant to your problem.
  2. Highlight the most significant points from the answers.
  3. Set up relevant actions in relation to the significant points.

The Who

The “Who” should allow you to cover everyone that is concerned and not only the main person involved. You may have several typical clients who should be included in these questions.

In this case, it is interesting to make a table with several entries:

  • Who is aware of the situation?
  • Who is purchasing this item? Who will use it?
  • Who is it?
  • Who is the person linked with in this context?
  • Who is he/she working for?
  • Who is the owner?

The What

The "What" question refers to the purpose of why you are implementing this methodology. It is often the trigger:

  • What difficulties do you encounter?
  • What product or service?
  • What is the purpose of using this methodology?
  • In relation to what is the person concerned working on?

The Where

The “Where” identifies the precise place or location linked to the issue raised:

  • Where is the client located when using the item?
  • Where is he heading?
  • Where does the issue occur?
  • Where could the information be found?

The When

The “When” refers to the time(s) when the event(s) occurs. It may also indicate a period of time or a deadline:

  • When does the client use the item?
  • From when does the audience log on to my site?
  • Until which year do we hope to sell this item?
  • When do we have to send the newsletter?
  • At what age will they have children?

The How

The “How” highlights how the facts are done. It is often a strong element in explaining a situation:

  • Under what conditions do customers use our solution?
  • How did the buyers get to know us?
  • How do readers prefer to access our content?
  • What led the person to this situation?

The How much, optional criterion

The “How Much” makes it possible to quantify the subject of the problem in question and often to assess its seriousness:

  • How much cash is involved?
  • What is the price?
  • How many people visit our exhibit monthly?
  • How quickly can we launch a new item?
  • To what extent does the situation impact our project?

The Why

The “Why” relates to the reason or trigger of the situation. It allows us to find the first elements of the answer:

  • What caused the decrease in turnover?
  • What is the reason that triggered the purchase?
  • Why do people prefer version A rather than version B?
  • Why do readers visit our site less often?

An example of the 5 W’s method in sales

The 5 W’s method is widely used in sales because, as in a journalistic context, the salesperson will be in direct contact with the potential prospect.

In fact, the 5 W’s method allows the salesperson to collect exhaustive and factual information in order to build up relevant successful sales arguments for this specific prospect. To make it simple, the 5 W’s method increases your company’s success by maximizing your chances of selling the same item to two people who are sensitive to different arguments.

Your company produces and sells palm trees:

Axis Question Julie John
Who Who's going to plant the palm tree? I don’t know, not me anyway! I will do it.
What What type of Palm Tree would you like? I would like two small ones. A curved palm tree like on heavenly beaches.
Where Where will the palm tree be? In my garden in Boston. In my cottage in Orlando.
When By when would you like to have it at the latest? Within the next 2 weeks. It doesn’t matter.
How How will you transport it? I have no idea. In my trailer
Why Why do you want a palm tree? It’s resistant and beautiful. It has always been a dream of mines and I'll be able to rent my cottage more easily.

In this example, it appears that Julie will be sensitive to the service that your company will provide her (delivery, installation). She has clear ideas about what she wants, but will not be able to transport and plant the palm tree by herself and thinks of no one to do it. Sell her an impeccable service and not a tree!

In the second case, John is more interested in creating perceived value for his cottage than in enriching the flora in his garden. In this case, your business should sell him the most beautiful tree and accessories (warm LED lights, hammock or teak swing). Moreover, your company can reassure him by calculating his return on investment.

Apply the 5W’s in your business with one of these tools

The 5 W’s method is a structuring way of analyzing a situation individually or as a team, but it may not be the most effective tool in all circumstances. Here are the limitations of the 5 W’s method:

  • It requires an analysis time that is not possible to have in traditional sales.
  • It requires human action and therefore a risk of misinterpretation and mistakes. It cannot be automated.
  • It is possible not to ask the right questions.
  • It does not cover more subtle aspects due to its rigidity and its very general basic questions.

Here are some tools that will allow your business to structure your approach more efficiently than a manual methodology:

Category Advantages Example of tools
Client Relationship and Sales: CRM software

CRM tools are customizable, meaning that you can add fields to collect the right information about your clients.

Some include a custom sales script to make sure you ask the right questions.

Zoho CRM
Project Management

Project management tools offer a high level of information structuring and collaboration.

For example, monday.com offers complete visibility on your projects and tasks: you know who does what, when, where and why.

monday.com
Human resources

HRIS and talent management tools enable the collection of essential data to respond quickly to HR challenges.

They provide dashboards that make it possible to understand all aspects of even the most humane HR activity such as employee engagement, motivation, etc.

BambooHR
Marketing

Email marketing tools automatically manage reminders or suggestions based on buyer behavior.

DMP (Data Management Platform) centralizes all data to initiate relevant actions without human action.

Mailchimp
Idea and meeting management Ideation solutions enable teams to structure their ideas and put them to intelligent use. Brightidea

Conclusion

The 5 W’s method makes it possible to create a universal representation of an event, interest, situation or context in order to achieve a commercial (sales) or problem-solving objective.

It is a simple, effective and above all proven study that can be used in a multitude of fields, although it is highly credited by journalists, entrepreneurs, and sales professionals.

The latter use it to maximize their chances of selling the same items to several individuals sensitive to different arguments as we have seen in the example above.

However, the method has a few limitations that you can overcome by using online tools that offer the possibility to automate the understanding of a particular situation and to take relevant actions.

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