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MARKETING IN THE TRENCHES

The secret to getting things done: Fire when ready

Your marketing thinking is clear; your research is sound. The marketing plan is complete, and management has approved it. Now's the time to sit back and watch the business grow, right?
Wrong. Just as critical a task still lies ahead - making it all happen. Waiting and fine-tuning plans before unleashing them has merit, but can lead to overkill which is counterproductive to achieving good business results quickly. The secret to getting things done is to "fire when ready." With experience, you can continually adjust your aim, making your business model more precise.
Three concepts can help you apply this approach: (1) never up, never in, (2) play a poor hand well, and (3) let the chips fall where they may.



Your marketing thinking is clear; your research is sound. The marketing plan is complete, and management has approved it. Now's the time to sit back and watch the business grow, right?

Wrong. Just as critical a task still lies ahead - making it all happen. Waiting and fine-tuning plans before unleashing them has merit, but can lead to overkill which is counterproductive to achieving good business results quickly. The secret to getting things done is to "fire when ready." With experience, you can continually adjust your aim, making your business model more precise.

Three concepts can help you apply this approach: (1) never up, never in, (2) play a poor hand well, and (3) let the chips fall where they may.

"Never up, never in" is common counsel used in sports: in golf, if you don't hit the ball far enough, you can't get it in the hole; in soccer, if you don't kick the ball hard enough, you can't get in the goal. The same advice applies to marketing - if you don't have enough big ideas in execution, you can't hit the big winner.

Let's take an example (case disguised for confidentiality's sake): one of my early bosses ran an oral care business that was suffering at the hands of the market leader. He experimented with many different ideas to build a market share: new advertising, more aggressive competitive claims, improved flavorsÉat least 10 different projects. Each was a complex concept that, if successful, would be a model for his company both locally and worldwide.

I thought that we should focus on one or two things and do them well. My boss answered: "We could do that, but if we're ever to be successful in this business we need one or two major winning ideas. To get there, we need to do 10 big things. Most will fail. But one will be great. We cannot wait."

He was right. A few years later I saw one of his ideas re-applied in a much bigger market, and another of the ideas copied by a competitor in another part of the world, tributes to his approach of "Ready, Fire, Aim."

"Play a poor hand well" - There's a saying that goes: "Success is not about being dealt a good hand (of cards). It's about playing a poor hand well." Again, a sports analogy: "It's not the racket which makes the tennis player, it's the player who makes the racket."

Here's a relevant example: one central European producer of beauty products was consistently missing its monthly sales objectives. To diagnose the problem, I spent time in the field with various salespeople. What I concluded was there wasn't enough advertising, insufficient merchandising materials and lack of training. But even more importantly, the salespeople were spending more than half their time in the office working on "administrative issues," i.e. aiming but not firing.

It was clear that what this company needed to do was get their salespeople out in the stores and selling. They needed to spend at least 80 percent of their time in the field and not at their desks. After the diagnosis, salespeople spent on average 4 out of 5 days per week visiting stores. A month later, the company achieved its plan for the first time in months.

"Let the chips fall where they may." In the old days, companies would pursue test markets and other research prior to product launches, ad-infinitum and ad-nauseum. Slow and methodical were the modus operandi. The goal: avoid mistakes at all costs.

But central Europe is an emerging market and a key lesson here is to get into the market quickly. That is: ready and fire - precise aim will come with time.

A solid example illustrates this point: a large soft drinks producer was intent on overtaking its bitter rival throughout central and eastern Europe. While its worldwide competitor had a start and bigger market share in the region, the newer entrant didn't care. All that concerned it was firing on: as quick as possible timing, providing consumers access to its beverages within arm's reach, anywhere, in line with the company's global strategy. Exact details were less important than just getting things done. Rather than wait until newly constructed local bottling plants were completed, it imported products from other countries. It sourced trucks, vending machines, promotional materials and people from wherever there was capacity, while each country's business became more and more fine-tuned each day. Know what? The plan worked. They're the leader now.

Developing a marketing plan takes time. But once plans are setÉready, fire, aim. Don't wait and you'll be a leader, too.

Stewart Glickman is an international consultant currently based in Moscow. Tel: 007-095-2265-4745. Fax: 007-095-265-4754.

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