Reining in the Cowboys: A Story About How to (Properly) Develop Products/Offerings/Services

The phone rang late in the day, just before sunset.  A senior partner, with a maverick reputation, was on the line requesting a brochure for the annual client conference, three weeks away. “I need a piece”, he said with a Texas twang tempered by a note of urgency, “that describes a project I just wrapped up for Acme Corporation this past week. My team worked day and night for six months on this thing and we’re ready to do the same thing for all of our other clients.  How soon can I see some copy?”

I had to bite my tongue to avoid saying, “Whoa, Nelly, let’s hold those horses.” It was the third time this same cowboy partner had come knocking at the marketing department’s door with the same story: his team had finished a one-off project and now he thought every client west of the Mississippi was hankering to buy it.

Now, we can pick his rationale apart until the cows come home for all the marketing fallacies it illustrates. For one thing, we all know that brochures do not sell work.  Secondly, you can’t (and shouldn’t) ever assume that, just because one client buys a project, others will follow suit like a herd of cattle headed for the feed barn.  Plus, there was no way this partner even knew whether the work was profitable for the firm.

So, in response, my team created a simple list of considerations now used as a preliminary screen to determine whether to pursue a full-blown strategy for promoting a new product or solution.  The thirty or so questions help us probe product viability from a number of angles, from the micro (“Does our current buyer control the budget for this type of purchase?”) to the macro (“Does the offering fit with our overall strategy?”).   So, far, it is helped us rein in the cowboys, and provided needed discipline prior to undertaking a formal product development process.  Plus, we’ve spent fewer dollars and hours producing brochures that don’t amount to a hill of beans. I’m happy to share the list…just email me and I will send it to you.

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