Permissible Thoughts

Permissible Thoughts is a blog of ideas and concepts that we believe can have an impact on how you think about your business and in particular, your sales and marketing effort. We hope you enjoy it. 

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When Should a Company Set Up a CRM?

posted Oct 28, 2013, 2:23 PM by Douglas McCartney

One question that many new companies ask me is when should they create a CRM. But the fact of the matter is that all companies have a CRM, it’s just a question of how well they manage it, how much it helps or hurts them, and in the end how well they understand what it is they are trying to achieve.  

What Do You Mean “All Companies Have a CRM”?

By saying that all companies have a CRM I mean to say that all companies - at least those with at least one customer or prospect - have customers, have a relationship with those customers, and that they manage those customer relationships in some fashion. They may not manage them particularly well, they may not be in a centralized or integrated system, but they do have some system - even if it is mostly accidental - to manage their customer relationships.

And in fact, not having a centralized “system” is by no means proof positive that things are not being managed well. Quite to the contrary, many companies manage their customer relationships extremely well and yet they have not licensed software or built a system they refer to as a CRM. So a CRM, to me at least, isn't exclusively defined as a product that you buy or subscribe to from a company like Instead it is just what the name implies - the approach by which your company manages customer interactions.

The question for every company thus becomes, not should I implement a CRM, but is your current CRM working for you?

So What Would or Should Prompt a Change?

Taking my more general definition of a CRM, many companies don’t start with or have a standardized and centralized CRM system. Instead, the “system” they have came about as the result of several individuals’ or separate groups’ efforts to get things done. For example, the sales and support teams - each as a group or even as individuals - may have started  managing customer contact detail in MS office or Google contacts. Other details about customers, for example customer interactions, may simply be stored as archived emails. After all, who among us hasn’t dug up important information stored in old emails in our Outlook or gmail system. Or, likewise, someone smart in accounting may have started organizing order forms or license agreements in 3-ring binders or as file attachments in the accounting system. Elsewhere, perhaps development built some tracking into the system itself.  These are all part of a CRM and hence all part of the process. The question is, if this more or less describes you and your company, is it working for you now and will it in the future?

What may be missing in most cases is that the above approach is highly fragmented. Data for one individual or group isn’t easily shared with others or with other departments. Sales may have access to their contact detail and historical emails, but what about support? Wouldn’t it be nice if that information could be shared? Or what about the license agreements stored by accounting? It might be very helpful to the support group or even development to have access as well.  More importantly, it can be hard to summarize and report data. Does a new customer acquisition process take a month or six? How about the new customer on-boarding process? How many emails and calls on average are required? Or for accounting, what is our average price really and how often do we give customers a discount? With the accidental approach most every answer to these types of questions is anecdotal, an educated guess from that area’s resident expert. When you are very small that can be accurate, but in short order our “sense” of what “is” may be very different from reality. Even the expert can be wrong. Further, if you wait too long you may find that your fragmented systems are deeply entrenched and extremely hard to improve on and combine going forward. You are in essence trapped and the more successful you become the harder it will be to fix.

So What Should You Do?

In a nutshell, plan what you want to get out of your CRM and start creating a unified system as soon as possible. No doubt you will get some things wrong, but the sooner you start thinking about what it is you think a CRM should do for your company the sooner you can make it better. At its core, you want a way to look back and see what every customer interaction entailed. What you offered, what they licensed, what they owe you. Sales should be able to see what support has done and visa versa. A CRM, when it is at its best, is in many ways how you run your company.

Is a commercial CRM required? Absolutely not. But you might want to play with one a bit before you assume you should “go it alone”. There is much that can be unique to each CRM implementation and yet much is the same from one business to the next. You certainly don’t want to be reinventing the wheel. Plus there are many choices, meaning it isn't only about Many CRMs may be much more complex than your require, while others will be far too simplistic, but one of them may be just about right. In the end, the key is to start building a system that will help you maintain, grow, and better understand your business. That, after all, is what it is all about.

Pricing - When Is It Time To Stop Worrying?

posted Oct 8, 2013, 12:53 PM by Douglas McCartney

As a person who has spent years in a multitude of sales and marketing roles, I have spent a good deal of my time worrying about pricing. By worrying I mean researching it, analyzing it, modeling it, discussing it, negotiating it, and discussing it even more. I often felt it might just be time to stop the worrying, settle on a price, and then never look back. After all, how much more value could we wring out of the pricing question? However, my experience shows that while “putting pricing aside” for a time was often advantageous, in the end, time and again, the world at large proved that revisiting pricing is almost never a bad idea. It is just too powerful and too important to be taken for granted.

But How Much Can You Change Pricing Anyway?

One of the most common objections to revisiting pricing is that customers will never stand for it. If we increase our price, won’t they all stop buying? Well in some cases that of course might be true. But if we look around at our everyday lives, most people can find examples where that is most definitely not the case.

Consider for example a box of Cheerios cereal. You can buy a box at Price Shopper, Hannaford, or Whole Foods. Is the price the same at each store? No it is not. If you know the stores, you’d probably guess that the price across that continuum goes from lower to higher,  so why wouldn't someone always go to the lowest price store? Well the answer, as we all know, is ‘lots of reasons’. Because buying groceries is more than the price of a single item and the “value proposition” of any one store varies by individual. At the very least, it is sometimes nothing more than location. After all, you probably paid three times the regular store price for a candy bar the last time you picked one up at an airport kiosk or the theater, so price most certainly isn't the most important variable. Customers love to make you feel that it is, but we all know there is much more to a buying decision. And in the BtoB world, that is even more the case since you might not get fired for paying a higher price, but you could most certainly get fired for choosing a vendor that fails to deliver.

So How Much Change Can You Do?

This is again another area of push back, “Yes, of course we could change the price, but how much difference can that make.” Well the answer is, a lot.

One way to make a big difference is to simply change the price by a very large amount. I've worked with companies where we simply doubled, tripled, even quadrupled the price overnight. This can work particularly well in the BtoB world since pricing is often unpublished and there is often not a lot buyers who revisit their initial buying decision. Yes, support or other ongoing revenue “concerns” for your current customers may need special handling, but for new customers they don’t have the history to bog them down. Instead, they will assess the value of the offering on its own merit.

One of the oddities of pricing also works in your favor in this case. Research over the years has clearly indicated that the more complex a product, the more a consumer will use price as a gauge of value. What that means is, assuming your product is rather complex, the higher priced offering will often win because the buyer assumes the higher price option is better. After all, if you are charging 50%, 100%, 200% more than your competition, you must be doing a better job. .

Again, in our everyday life this is shown to be true again and again. You can probably think of your own example, but the Tiffany pricing strategy often comes to mind when I ask people this question. To me a diamond has a fairly clear set of rules and guidelines for assessing its value (it is, after all, just a rock), but Tiffany's always gets a premium. Now it takes a lot more than doubling the price to earn the Tiffany’s markup, but pricing is clearly part of the package (and is not just a simple byproduct) .  

Bundle and Unbundle

But as noted, premier pricing is not for every brand and every offering. So another way to play with price is to play with bundling and unbundling. Software is often ready made for this type of price changing, but I often like to suggest people stop at their local MacDonald’s to get the idea. “I’ll have a number 1” is a perfect example of using bundling to your advantage. The basic theory is simple, if you can’t get more for a Big Mac, then get people to buy more alongside it. Every invoice in other words, becomes a little bit higher. Ordering a “number 1” does help the line move faster, but to me it is more about the pricing than order efficiency.

In software, bundling can be very simple. Instead of selling single seats, have the price start with a dozen. I have used this approach more than just a few times and in at least one case we more or less saved the company from certain extinction. Too many customers were buying a seat or two and centralizing work. It was just killing the company where it counts most; their top line revenue. So we simply said every license is a minimum of four users. When that worked, we made it 4 add edit and 12 read only. The price went up, revenue went up, and customers got what they always wanted: a vendor that was still in business and providing more and better products and services.

Unbundling is just the reverse. Many companies start out by including pretty much everything a customer might need in a single offering. In today’s SaaS world, that is most certainly the case. But what was once included need not be included forever. How you handle current customers can be sticky and some customers may even make it unpleasant, but in general pricing changes that are fair and important to the company’s long term success are normally greeted with resigned acceptance.

And unbundling need not mean the separate components are optional. More recently I worked with a company that unbundled their services for new customers, priced them separately, but still made them mandatory. The net was a minimum 50% price increase for something they used to give away with the core product. In hindsight, what was happening seemed stupid, but in point of fact it wasn't. It’s just that things - and thus pricing - change.

Nothing is Forever

And just as it is true that any pricing model isn't “forever”, it is also true that no pricing experiment has to be forever either. You most certainly have to give any quality “experiment” a chance, but at the same time it is possible to recover from a bad pricing decision.

If you don’t think so, consider Netflix.

As I've heard other people put it, when you have a quality product and a quality offering you can and should expect a price that is a “good value” for your customer, but it is likewise totally unnecessary (and
unwise) to make your price a “no brainer”.

Drip Campaigns - Don’t Let The Name Steer You Wrong

posted Sep 23, 2013, 3:46 PM by Douglas McCartney

I admit it. Whenever anyone says “drip campaign” I think of the old Mr. Coffee advertisements. If you’re over 40 or so, you might remember the ones with Joe DiMaggio? Yes, that Joe DiMaggio. Mr. Coffee makers were of course “drip coffee” makers and there are still a lot of them out there, but they are old style and completely out of fashion. Today’s coffee drinker is either all about the penosh of a French press or perhaps the ubiquitous Keurig coffee maker, which I understand can also make soup now. I’m a tea drinker and I frankly couldn't care much less about how one makes their coffee, but the odd connection still makes me chuckle. And then I think about the term itself and it just sounds - well kinda gross.I mean, there generally isn't anything pleasant about the word “drip”. Faucets that drip are bad and then there is the nasal type of drip too. So why are “drip campaigns” considered so good and why exactly are they called that?

Instead of Drip, How About Breadcrumb?

My guess is that drip campaigns were named that way because if you drip water on a stone for long enough, you can eventually wear it away. It’ll take a long time, but drip long enough and consistently enough the rock will someday submit. But to me, if that assumption is true, it really isn't a very good analogy for what we want to accomplish. We really don’t want to wear our prospects and suspects down into submission. “If you don’t buy now we will keep emailing you the same message over and over again until the end of time!” Or at least I don’t think we want to give our prospective customers that idea (although I have certainly seen my share of such campaigns that appear to be taking a run at it).

No, instead, a drip campaign is about delivering content that will achieve two important goals. First, to keep our prospective customers engaged. After all, they might not want to buy now, but perhaps they would like to buy later. And then two, perhaps some of that content we are offering will not only keep them from unsubscribing, but might help them move down our sales funnel from suspect, to prospect, to someday a customer. Therefore, I think of this not as a drip drip “wear them down to submission” type process but a Breadcrumb process. You know, when your dog won’t come back in the house so you start dropping bits of bread down in a path that will eventually lead them back inside.

But Breadcrumbs Are Hard to Do

But the fact of the matter is that those two goals are really hard to achieve. You have to really dig into your suspects’ collective situation and create truly helpful and enticing materials that step them through a buying process. Not materials about you and your product, but about them. And then they need to help form a thought process that leads your prospects and suspects to think more kindly about your solution. How do you do that?

Well more than likely you need to talk to your customers who did buy. What was life like before and what is it like now? But it can’t just be a series of simple user story about features and ROI. That again, would be more about you than it is about them. No, it really needs to be a set of stories (or materials) about how your suspects and prospects can make the very same transition.

For example, if your tool replaces a spreadsheet then perhaps your prospects need to experience life with a better spreadsheet then they've got now before they can realize a spreadsheet can never fully do the job. So what do you do? Perhaps you give them a spreadsheet as part of your campaign so they can get through that transition faster. It sounds crazy I know, but if that is the path nearly all your customers went before deciding to buy, how do you expect your prospects to not do the same?

In essence, if you focus on the end result you’ll be too far ahead of them. Instead, you need to focus on all the steps between and lead your prospects through them. As the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day and it is likewise true that any buying decision wasn’t done in a day either.

So the next time you go to create a drip campaign (or to fix the ones you’ve got), be sure to avoid the concept of drip drip drip - and instead focus on creating breadcrumbs.

Lean Start Up - Land Lines Aren't Dead Yet

posted Sep 14, 2013, 8:32 AM by Douglas McCartney

Every startup has limited resources, particularly cash. One of the more frustrating costs to me is the phone. Sure we all have a smartphone, but to me they still don’t deliver the voice quality of a solid landline or well executed VOIP system. The landline also lends a certain “permanence” to your business that a cell phone just can’t deliver. And lest you not be deceived, your phone is still your number one sales and marketing tool.

And like so many other  technologies in use at businesses today, it is often helpful to look at the business to consumer (B2C) world to see what is coming next. With that in mind, one system I found to save a bit of money at home is a product called Ooma - and they have a small office offering as well.

Ooma, in short, gives you free unlimited nationwide calling for the cost of a one time hardware purchase. It is a small box (about the size of two decks of cards) and costs about $130 on Amazon. Plug it into your Internet router and in about 10 minutes you’ve up and running. If you like, for $40 more  you can port your existing number to it and cut the cord on your traditional landline or Internet provider’s VOIP system completely (for me, that saves $50 a month). You do need to pay about $4 in monthly taxes, but otherwise there is no other cost. I personally connected this, ported our landline number to it, and I must say it just works. There is even a very nice web portal that is every bit as good as what we used to have with Verizon FOIS, except it is about $50 less a month.

If you want there is a premium offering that for $10 a month that gives you a second line and a few additional phone services plus unlimited calling to Canada as well. And on the business front, the company has a small office offering as well. It gives you multiple inbound lines and more importantly for most of today’s businesses, a good number of “virtual” extensions that can be programmed to forward callers out to their remote office giving your small organization the feel of a much larger company. It is, if you will, a business VOIP offerings like Ringcentral at yet an even lower price point.

Check it out at

CRM “Stage” Craft

posted Sep 7, 2013, 2:35 PM by Douglas McCartney

What Are The Right Opportunity Stages for Your Business?

One of the things most sales teams start doing with their new CRM is to begin tracking their opportunities, but in their excitement to get started they often just “go with” the stages that are in the system by default. Of course, one might assume that the default list represents some sort of “best practices” guideline, so why would anyone change them? Well, I would say, because when it comes to selling your product to your prospects YOU are the EXPERT, not the CRM software provider.  So in a nutshell, a lot of companies end up with opportunity stages that don’t work for the sales team and don’t work for management either.

Further, when stages have been customized beyond the provided standard, they are often what I would call logistically oriented stages, which really aren’t stages at all. You thus see lists such as the following:

  1. initial contact

  2. scheduled demo

  3. demo complete

  4. proposal sent

  5. negotiate agreement

  6. etc.  

But that is a very tough list to work with as well, for as anyone who has tried to work with such has found you run into an endless series of exceptions. The standard “rule” in other words, too often doesn't apply.   

For example, perhaps you have multiple people to make an initial contact with, but to get to the second you’ll need to do a short little demo for the first? Or your prospect contact won’t budge until you give him or her some idea on pricing so you need to send them something akin to a proposal, but in fact you’ll skinny it down so you have someplace to go later on (and when the value of your service is better understood). In those cases, what is your sales rep to do in regard to picking a stage? They are doing a demo and or sending out pricing, so aren't they well beyond initial contact? In those two examples they clearly are not. But alternatively, if they leave them at Initial contact someone might ask why they did a demo? The point is that the rep really isn’t sure where to put this prospect and worse, management has no real idea how close the rep is to a sale. That is clearly not any good for anyone involved.

So in my experience, I've always rejected a logistics focused list like the one above and instead tried to focus on the spectrum that starts with identifying an issue and on to proving my solution. In fact, even before we had CRMs and we instead “diagrammed” our prospects out on paper, I always kept stages focused on this problem solving approach or method. Selling after all is always about solving problems (current or future). But it’s always been a bit hard to get everyone to agree on that approach and more importantly selecting a few key stages and words to describe them.

Enter a book  I recently picked up at the suggestion of Ian Smith of The Portfolio Partnership and author of the blog, the Smith Report ( Ian is an expert in the field of sales and marketing process and is a real student of available resources. The book he recommended has many great sales insights, but a primary focus is how best to approach a sales process.  The book is Exceptional Selling by Jeff Thull (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, New Jersey 2006).

As Jeff puts it, a salesperson has four primary goals. They are:

“(1) to quickly and effectively identify the customer who has the highest probability of purchasing the offering; (2) to provide the customer with the incentive to change; (3) to provide the customer with the confidence to invest; and finally, (4) to ensure that the value promises made are fulfilled. ” (Exceptional SellingJeff Thull, Page 78)

For Jeff, that boils down to four basic steps or stages that can apply to any size sale and any type of deal:

  1. Discover

  2. Diagnose

  3. Design

  4. Deliver

These four stages - or the four Ds as I like to call them (I believe Jeff calls it the Prime Process) - capture what your sales team and your organization needs to do to win and maintain business. In short, I submit that very few organizations if any need more stages in their CRM. Using them keeps your stages simple, understandable, and most importantly information valuable. If you are on to delivering your solution to a client you are clearly very close to a completed long term sale. But further, from my point of view, the four stages can also clearly inform your organization on how you want to think about marketing as a whole, what you do in your sales calls and presentations, and even how you compensate your sales team. The trick of course, is to determine how best to fit the logistics of your sales process into them, but that is something we would be happy to help you with, so feel free to give us a call.

CRM Alternatives - It Isn’t Only About Salesforce

posted Aug 28, 2013, 11:09 AM by Douglas McCartney   [ updated Aug 30, 2013, 10:44 AM ]

I’ve used CRM or contact management software for over 20 years, starting in the early 1990s with Act!. The original Act! was a simple contact management system; it had no concept of organizations, opportunities, or other capabilities we’ve all come to consider central to a CRM. It was just a single flat record database, one record for each contact, and then a way to track and record your calls, emails, and other interactions with your business associates. In its heyday, it was either Act! or a six figure enterprise system with an even pricer implementation process. But even with all its simplicity, I ran more than one company’s entire sales, marketing, and support process with a few networked Act! licenses.

Then in the early 2000s Salesforce arrived and as we all know it has become the most dominant system in its space, particularly for mid-sized technology companies. I have personally used SalesForce for nearly 10 years and given the right level subscription, it truly can be used to do just about anything. Not just to run sales and track opportunities, but to run marketing campaigns, track customers, track revenue, manage support, and just about anything else you have a mind to turn its prodigious powers upon. And this power and flexibility has turned it into the market’s primary “hip quotient” product in the space. By hip quotient, I mean to say that today if you’re not using Salesforce, then you’re at the risk of being considered a company that isn’t really ready for primetime. And perhaps that is true to some degree, but the flip side is that I think all too many startups I meet - particularly the ones that haven’t yet scored a serious level of backing - have opted to wait until they can afford Salesforce to get started on CRM. In the meantime, they cobble together an approach using email and other home grown systems. But is this a reasonable approach? I would submit it is not.  

Now of course, to be sure a CRM system in and of itself does not a sales process make. In fact, regardless of the system selected, I probably see more people that underutilize their CRM to an almost breathtaking level than the reverse. But that is not the point I want to make here. Instead, it is the point that a CRM used correctly - even the most basic - can truly help you streamline and dramatically improve your sales and marketing process. Particularly in the SaaS world of today, many sales are for a relatively small dollar value (under $10,000) and are a fairly simple sale so the complexity of a “fully functional” CRM may be overkill anyway. But having one in place can ensure that good prospects don’t fall between the cracks, that the right questions and analysis is done with the prospect at the right time, and potential deals that will not close can be put aside while resources can be focused on those that will. And even in the simplest of systems, there is normally an ability to track marketing activity (if only on a rudimentary basis), support activity, and follow up projects or consulting. All in one system your team can share and leverage as a group. And most importantly at this stage for so many companies, at a price point that will work for the organization while also not locking you in for the long haul when that third round of funding finally comes rolling in.

How to find them? They are out there and there are multiple reviews to be found and poured over. Or Licitus can help you choose as well. In short, regardless of your company’s size or current stage, the right time for a CRM is now.

Are You Crazy - Enough?

posted Aug 22, 2013, 10:01 AM by Douglas McCartney   [ updated Aug 30, 2013, 10:44 AM ]

I've got a short note for today to highlight a nice write up by fellow Colby grad Andrew Johnson, Ph.D., published on his blog Upstart Life Sciences*. I'll also call your attention to a very appropriate poem by Ruydyard Kipling (perhaps my one literary reference for the year? I'm an Econ grad and MBA after all, so any such references put me ahead of the game I think.) 

Are You A Crazy Entrepreneur? 

As Andrew notes, the startup focused professional and in particular CEO loves the stress and adrenalin rush of the ups and downs and occassional sheer chaos that can be a startup. To me, it's that thrill of remaining calm in the face of uncertainty and nearly constant change. It's a chance to be constantly learning new things and pushing yourself and fellow team members into new uncharted waters. To tackle things you've likely never dealt with before so you rarely have to solve the same problem twice. In short, it is pretty much a reverse of the old bromide "If you can keep calm when all around are losing it, YOU don't have all the facts about the situation". Instead, of course, you do understand but you're crazy enough to embrace it instead of run away from it. 

Or a Rock-Steady Established Company Type?

Conversely, as he notes, the CEO at an established company thrives in a much more risk-adverse world, excelling instead when the focus is on scaling an existing process. Where data and deliberate decision making trump seat-of-the-pants rubrics. It is that deep more complete problem solving attitude that perhaps the startup mentality sometimes lacks. In my mind, I think of it as having the faith and gumption to keep repeating something that is successful over and over again until you get board to tears by it. And then to get up the next day and do it again. Of course you are refining, improving, and fixing certainly, but never without data and reasoned purpose behind the change. 

You Decide What You Are - Or Do You?

Where Andrew's focus turns of course is knowing yourself and knowing when you need to let go and seek out the time and opportunity to replace yourself. This is of course the real trick of it and the place most startup minded folk get into trouble. It's their baby, their company, and their creation. How could they possibly let it go? But as Andrew notes, there is more than enough reward for those that do so. First, it is best for their company. Investors will be more interested in a startup whose leader knows when to turn the reins over to a established company personality. It also is the best way to get oneself into your next great venture.

But as I suspect Andrew would certainly allow and even assert, that this is somewhat of an over simplification. The reality is that any good (should we say great) leader is one that is a bit of both. If you are all one or all of the other, you likely lack the flexibility and even fortitude to lead in either case. Because, as anyone who's been in business very long knows - any organization, from the smallest startup to the rebuilt colossus IBM - has its crazy times as well as steady times - on an ongoing basis. 

What Did Kipling Have to Say About It?

So how does Ruydyard Kipling, the famous poet and author figure into this? Consider his following poem:


(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

I think you'll find that well said. I sourced it from here on the web:

Better Mousetrap?

posted Aug 7, 2013, 10:26 AM by Douglas McCartney   [ updated Aug 30, 2013, 10:42 AM ]

Entrepreneurs are dedicated, they are commonly brilliant, and they normally have a way to make some service or product better, faster, easier.  But one of the first questions I at least ask myself is “are they simply building a better mousetrap?”

Now that’s an old bromide for sure, but what exactly do I mean when I ask myself that question? Do I mean to ask if the entrepreneur thinks that their better mousetrap in-and-of-itself will help them build a business?  As in, “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door?” Lots of people do fall into that trap (forgive the pun), but for most entrepreneurs I meet that really isn't the case. They understand that selling and marketing is just as important as having a great product or service. So no, that is not what I mean to ask.

This American Life, the NPR Radio Show, drilled down into the details of mousetraps in the first segment of an episode that aired in 2008 called “A Better Mousetrap” (you can find it here: ). When I heard it, I thought now there’s a lesson to learn from mousetraps.

As the show outlines, the old-fashioned wooden, spring loaded mouse trap will succeed 88% of the time and you can buy a pack of 4 on Amazon for $3.99 with free shipping ( ).

To quote the host Ira Glass:

“... the dirty secret of trapping mice is, mice are really easy to catch. That's why every inventor thinks that he can do it. Catching a mouse is basically playing against a casino where you always win.”

For a few bucks more the show states, you can get something that has 100% efficiency. You might not like dealing with mice or dead mice in traps, but the old fashioned mouse trap certainly works.

So instead of a sales and marketing focus, what I mean by the question is does anyone actually need what you are offering -- or is there already a perfectly good solution at hand?

One way to gauge this question is, what is your value proposition Delta? How big is it really? Because the truth is that very few products or services I've seen offered have zero added value. They all do. But are the advantages big enough to entice a prospect to both change and part with their hard earned money? If you've ever been in a sales role, you know how that comes out in a customer objection. “I don’t really like what we are doing and your product/service looks great, but we really don’t see a need to change just now.”

The mousetrap is hence a nice little analogy. If all you have is a better mousetrap, you prospect may still have to deal with many of the downsides of a mouse. But if your technology takes it to a whole new level, for example you prospect will never have to deal with a mouse in any manner shape or form again (alive or dead), then perhaps we’re talking about something.

Slow Ideas

posted Aug 3, 2013, 9:15 AM by Douglas McCartney   [ updated Aug 30, 2013, 10:40 AM ]

In his article "Slow Ideas" published last month in the New Yorker, Atul Gawande discusses the speed at which we humans adopt new ideas. Specifically he discusses the concept of "slow ideas" versus "fast ideas", asserting that new inventions, new technology, even simple concepts can be categorized as fast or slow. His subject matter and examples are all medically related, but in my mind it is a wonderful construct any marketing expert should consider. 

As examples, Gawande outlines the dramatic difference between how anesthesia was adopted versus early antiseptics. Anesthesia it turns out, which took surgery from a barbaric unimaginably painful process to what we know today, was adopted nearly worldwide in a matter of 2 to 3 months! Given the time frame, the last half of 1846, this is truly astounding. Whereas antiseptics and the meticulously hygienic medical processes we know today, which arguably save more lives, have taken decades to become standard practice (and any of us that pay attention in a public washroom know, washing one's hands regularly still isn't universally practiced!). 

So what is the difference? And how do you deal with it if your particular idea or offering is slow rather than fast?

Gawande outlines, as I have very briefly above, why the actual value of a slow versus fast idea are in general really not that different. Further, the required investment to implement them isn't all that different either. Anesthesia was so complex and difficult to use safely that a medical sub-specialty grew out its use, at least doubling the number of doctors in every surgical procedure. So while it is true that treating patients and a hospital's facilities with antiseptics is difficult, it really isn't all that difficult by comparison.  Instead, what is different is the timing of the reward for all the parties involved. In the case of anesthesia, it was fast because it had immediate and obvious benefit to the doctor (who didn't have a thrashing patient on the table) and the patient didn't have to go through unimaginable pain. But conversely, for antiseptic use, their non-use didn't have a negative impact until perhaps days later and making a direct connection from there non-use to a negative outcome would be hard, on the surface, for either the patient or doctor to see. The ability to rationalize away the connection is all to easy to imagine. 

So, the lesson of course is that if you have a choice, pick a product or service that is a fast idea. That is certainly simple enough. But what if you've already got a product or service that is a slow idea? What then? 

This is of course the "slower part" of Gawande's thesis, but like a lot of slow ideas it has tremendous value. His conclusion however is very simple. Human to human, person to person, direct communication is the secret. It wasn't training, it wasn't incentives, it wasn't rules and regulations that helped a slow idea catch on. In fact, many of those approaches had particularly negative impacts in the situation he was looking to address. What worked was to put trained people out in the field to work directly with the people who needed to adopt the new slow idea. Through direct interaction - and to some degree simple friendship and trust - the trained "change makers" were able to help people see the value of new ideas and new approaches. 

In the article you can read how Gawande interviewed a nurse that had finally bought into some new approaches to infant care following a several week visit from one of the slow idea program's change agents. Why had she changed and started to adopt the changes he asked? "All the nurse could think to say was "She was nice." ... "It wasn't like talking to someone who was trying to find mistakes," she said. "It was like talking to a friend.""

Any marketer or sales person can see the connection to their own experience. To foster change and the adoption of new ideas you've got to get out there and speak directly to people. Speak to them on their terms and in ways that resonate with them. It can be by phone, in person, or through some other trusted medium.... but simply having a good idea will not in itself get the job done. 

To read the full article, use the link above or cut and paste this google shortened link:

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