Sticking Your Neck Out

I have to admit, I always knew what “sticking your neck out”  meant, but it wasn’t until I owned my own business did I really get the literal meaning of the phrase.  Obviously, it means taking a risk and I’ve learned that risk taking is as much of growing a business as taxes, complaining employees and going to the bank.

Of course, the key is to take measured risks. I’ve been doing some work with NASA lately and as I study the agency’s history and culture, one thing has become crystal clear – at NASA, it’s all about taking measured risks. And at the same time, doing everything to mitigate these risks. If these brave souls were afraid to stick their necks out our civilization would look very different. Granted, there have been instances where things went terrible wrong but ultimately, NASA achieves the impossible every day.

One of the key benefits that a marketing process delivers is risk mitigation – it reduces the possibility that you’ll be tossing vast amounts of cash down the proverbial toilet on advertising, sales promotion, web sites, trade shows and the endless list of expensive tactics that are supposed to be “investments”.

By investing a relatively small amount of money on the front end, a solid marketing process can get to the heart of what makes customers buy. You can check your teams assumptions and learn hidden information that gets to the gut level needs and desires of prospects. You’ll update your data on market and industry trends, take a hard look at your value propositions and take stock of where you are and where you want to go.

If you choose to hire an outside facilitator, a good one will bring valuable objectivity to the process – questioning what seems obvious and keeping your team on the right track – ensuring an optimal outcome and avoiding the risk of another expensive team exercise that never gets anywhere.  This facilitator needs to be someone who has a certain gravitas – this is no job for a wall flower. The idea is to leave the comfort of what is known and make the giant leap to the unknown. Only when you embrace the unknown can you truly take control of your marketing and sales programs and make the decisions that mean the difference between life and death.

“Marketing” is different things to different people.  In my world, marketing is a process that creates a factual foundation upon which to make strategic and tactical decisions. In a nutshell, my process asks questions – some obvious, some tough. I objectively evaluate the answers based on two decades and hundreds of assignments. Together we identify any “gaps” and, after prioritizing these gaps, go about getting the information needed to complete the picture. This information comes from customers, competitors, industry experts – and many other sources. Once the facts are in place, the strategy becomes obvious to everyone and it is easy and efficient to roll out tactics.

Then, when you stick your neck out, you don’t get your head chopped off.

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