Can you pull this off?
I was VP of marketing at Ardent, a supercomputer company where a year earlier I had a painful and permanent lesson about Customer Discovery. I was smart, aggressive, young and a very tactical marketer who really hadn’t a clue about what strategy actually meant.
One day the CEO called me into his office and asked, “Steve I’ve been thinking about this as our strategy going forward. What do you think?” And he proceeded to lay out a fairly complex and innovative sales and marketing strategy for our next 18 months.
“Yeah, that sounds great,” I said. He nodded and then offered up, “Well what do you think of this other strategy?” I listened intently as he spun an equally complex alternative strategy. “Can you pull both of these off?” he asked looking right at me. By the angelic look on his face I should have known that I was being set up. I replied naively, “Sure, I’ll get right on it.”
25 years later I still remember what happened next. All of sudden the air temperature in the room dropped by about 40 degrees. Out of nowhere the CEO started screaming at me, “You stupid x?!x. These strategies are mutually exclusive.
Executing both of them would put us out of business. You don’t have a clue about what the purpose of marketing is because all you are doing is executing a series of tasks like they’re like a big To Do list. Without understanding why you’re doing them, you’re dangerous as the VP of Marketing, in fact you’re just a glorified head of marketing communications.”
I left in daze angry and confused.
My students were going through the motions of Customer Development rather than understanding the purpose behind it. It was trendy, they had read my book, and to them it was just another step on the list of things they had to do. They had no deep understanding of why they were doing it. So they were at a crossroads. Since their investors had asked them to launch now, what happened if their initial assumptions were wrong?