Why even smart companies are right only 50% of the time

Laura Ansell || September 10, 2014

right-and-wrong-decisions.jpegIf only we really knew what we don’t actually know – especially when you’re sitting in traffic staring at a sea of tail lights. Last month, I was taking a road trip from Manhattan to the beaches of Long Island. The Google maps app was running on my phone. Traffic on the ‘tens’ was reporting delays and diversions. I was using every technological resource at my disposal to get us out of traffic purgatory – quick. Or, so I thought. My friend turned me onto a new app, called Waze. With all I already knew, I was skeptical that this app could help.

How wrong I was. By gathering gps-generated vehicle speeds and user-reported traffic and construction obstacles, Waze leaves it to the user to select the route that works best for them. Switching back and from freeway to back roads, we shaved 30 minutes off the trip!

Now, if there was only a Waze-like app for my life, it might have saved me the heartache of some big mistakes. Like when I moved half-way across the country to pursue an exciting new job, only to have one of the harshest recessions in generations hit 4 months later. We’re all human. With the constant flow of information and no shortage of opinions, it’s no wonder how good intentions can turn into catastrophes.

The same thing happens in business – all the time. From slight market misjudgment to wanton acts of self-deception. From what will drive growth, to the ideal target customer to how to beat the competition, the half of what businesses believe to be true ranges from slightly askew to…well...really wrong, specifically, 50% of the time.

The 50/50 Rule

Why 50%? After years, I saw the same patterns emerge with client after client. Regardless of a business’s size, success, or industry, opportunities were left on the table because only half of what its management believes was true. The other half is myths that can easily invade a company, wrapping their insidious tentacles around all aspects of a business. These myths generally start in several different ways:

  1. Random executive musings
    Early in my career a very dynamic, opinionated senior executive wondered aloud if customers would pay more to bundle services together. Without any supporting data, it seemed counter-intuitive. But, this idea quickly became gospel in the office. The resulting bundled offer was priced higher than the individual services. Not surprisingly, customers were not willing to pay more for the ‘convenience’ of giving all of their business to one company, steering it into an early grave.
     
  2. Using data incorrectly
    A new client of mine wanted to ‘tune up’ an already very successful company to appeal to a younger consumer. From their extensive CRM database, they ‘knew’ their current customer was a middle-aged woman. In reality, their average customer was significantly younger.

    Why the disparity? A landline phone number was a requirement for their CRM database. Guess which consumers still have landlines? Exactly – middle-aged consumers. The real opportunity wasn’t about attracting younger customers. It was positioning the company to their true ‘average’ customer.
     
  3. Gut instincts
    Aka…Decisions based on past experience, years in the industry, a few anecdotal client interactions (at best) or executive hubris (at worst). In my experience, these myths are the ones are almost always closer to being dead wrong. And, the results can be equally disastrous. In one case of extreme executive gut decision-making – the resulting consumer reaction was explicit and severe – they stopped shopping there.
     
  4. We’ve always done it that way
    As common as it is tragic, it’s easier to accept what has always been. Who has the time, energy or the mandate to challenge the status quo? I didn’t when first tasked with developing a sales training program for an engineering-based B2B company. Of course, it was ‘known’ that B2B customers bought these complex services because of our superior technological expertise – or so the company wisdom went. After several missteps, we learned it was really about showing customers how to use the technology to help their business be more successful, which resulted in exponential sales growth. Turning ourselves into a consultative business partner rather than a technical wizard was a game changer.      

Sorting the fact from the fiction is the first step in accelerating your business success. This is a core tenant of my new firm – Brand Alloy. My job is all about asking the right questions, identifying and challenging these myths to help companies understand where they went wrong, and more importantly, how to get back on the right track.

Do you think your company has business myths limiting its success? Share your story. Drop me a line at laura.ansell@brandalloy.com or give me a call at (908) 803-7222.

In my next blog, I’ll be taking on: Identifying the difference between a business myth and a real, market-based fact.