Monday, July 13, 2009

It's Not About Perfect, It's About Piloting

One of my favorite clients, the late Virgil Miller, ran an RV company and was terribly worried about its future. He asked me to come in and present ideas to solve this problem for his management team. He told me, "They won't listen to me; maybe they'll listen to you."

At first that sounded great, until I envisioned his management team - all good guys, but all ultra-conservative, engineer types who were very black-and-white about everything. They had been opposed to any marketing because they felt their product was so great that everyone would buy it. (Of course, when that didn't happen, they blamed whatever little marketing they had been doing.) You get the picture.

I took the challenge, brainstormed with my team and came up with a dozen programs and concepts that we felt were worth piloting. I presented to this tough group - and they were indeed difficult. The first question was, "Do you guarantee that every one of your ideas will work?"

I was prepared for that question and shocked them when I said, "No. I can guarantee that every one of these ideas will not work." He was irritated and asked, "Why should we do them then?"

That's when the meeting took a turn, "Because each one of these programs is a pilot - if it doesn't get results we'll either shut it down or tweak it. We'll continue to monitor the results, and if it means only a couple of them are successful, then at least we'll have found a couple of winners."

They bought it and we did produce a dozen pilot programs. A couple died right away, a couple we're immediate successes, the rest were in between - they were small to big winners that needed a number of mid-course corrections. But overall, they worked, sales were up, the business had a positive momentum.

Interesting note: Most of the “new" ideas we presented to them at that board meeting were not new to them. We had presented these ideas to that company numerous times. We had been shut down because their company was perfection-oriented - they needed everything to be perfect, to be guaranteed, consensus-driven, to be safe - which had resulted in them doing very little.

The fact that their business was in trouble and that they were willing to be vulnerable gave us an opening to pilot those ideas and for them to strengthen their business.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and beyond

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