Two or three days into the operation, thousands of troops were just about poised to launch an especially dangerous assault across a choke point. Getting across, and gaining a foothold would be decisive to the operation.
The ability to both maintain the momentum, keeping the enemy on its heels, while also securing critical supply routes for essentials like fuel, ammo and water were equally important.
There was a list of things – conditions to be set – prior to giving the attack a green light. In the beginning, the list was short and that would change.
Refining the Conditions
A week prior, those conditions had numbered just three. Now a day or two into the fight, and approaching a key decision point, that list seemed woefully inadequate.
As one senior leader remarked, the enemy is rather “uncooperative.” So too is competition in business.
The leadership called for a quick huddle with key players from across the unit. In an hour, I watched and listened as a quick brainstorm led to a vastly expanded list of conditions – from just a hat trick to about a dozen.
Unlike business, this wasn’t just a mental exercise for fun, or some offsite to inspire executive creativity. This is serious. If we don’t identify the right conditions and put into place actions to achieve those conditions, a lot of good Americans might perish.
In my observation, as a team we walked out of that meeting with two substantive outcomes:
1. Clarity. As a team, we all had a far stronger grasp of the overall plan. More importantly, we had a clear picture of how our little piece of the plan contributed to the overall effect. It’s hard to underestimate the power of focus that comes with a mental exercise on a white board.
2. Confidence. The longer list of conditions established provided greater confidence. Once those conditions were met, the assault would be successful.
Audacity and decisiveness are words that are too easily bounced around equally in military and business parlance. However, this longer list of conditions spelled out precisely where the boss would assume risk if he made the decision to go prior to every condition being met.
But then, those are the sorts of decisions the Army invests in leaders to make. Likewise it’s what stakeholders in a company expect of business leadership.
What Marketing can learn from Military Planning
Businesses spend big money to launch to products. In my experience, and with a few exceptions, launches always seem to be a chaotic mad-dash to the finish line. Somehow, we always manage to stumble through.
In enterprise software (particularly in start-up environment) a launch usually hinges on a product that’s stable in a production environment and ready for customer use.
That’s it. One condition. Production.
Hey, marketing, go make some noise at a tradeshow so we can sell a pound or two of this cloud thing.
Production is certainly a critical condition to be set. But it is just one. Like our little Army huddle above, there are probably a dozen or more that should be identified.
By conditions, I don’t just mean the usual media or analyst pre-briefings (or other “drip campaign” techniques). Instead I mean truly setting the conditions in the market, weeks, or even months before a proposed launch:
- Well communicated pain-points. With a new product in development, it’s surely aimed at solving customer pain-points. It’s not giving away trade secrets, or tip your hand to the completion, to describe what these pain-points are in public form.The goal here is to help a target market see, understand and identify with those pain points. “Yes, I have that problem, tell me more.”
- Where current solutions fall short. With the recognition that those pain-points exist, it is now time to look at weaknesses. Every existing product, or class of products, has weaknesses.For example:
- wide but absent depth
- deep but lacking breadth
- silo-ed and fractured
- limited functionality
- too much functionality – bloat
Where solutions fall short is about putting the pause button on the competition’s sales cycle. There’s something better coming, and it’s worth your while (and money) as a customer to wait for it.
- The paradigm shift. The “paradigm shift” is a staple of new product announcements, but it’s often too little, too late. This is especially true in enterprise software where sales cycles are long. If a shift in thinking is just at the outset at the time of launch it’s like adding three to six months from launch date.
Planning Launches Across 3 Dimensions
These factors are looking purely from a marketing or public communications perspective. In reality, there are multiple business functions that bear pre-launch responsibility.
In my mind, planning spans three dimensions, beginning with those responsible:
- Technical sales
And thinking about the responsibility those functions have across a precise landscape:
- Industry trade associations
- Existing customers (ideally, your evangelists)
- Industry influencers
And the third dimension, the tactical medium:
- Website (the anchor)
- Research and surveys
- Strategy announcements (manifesto)
- Contributed articles
- Thought leadership webinars
- White papers (true white papers)
- Sponsored content
- Social (paid and organic)
All three of these lists are anything but exhaustive.
In the end the point is market education needs to begin long before a product launch. Or you wind up in huddle around a white board one-third of the way through the battle.
* * *
We didn’t get across the choke point. Fortunately, it was a simulated rehearsal. And that’s partly why our military is so good. We don’t the capacity for a simulated rehearsal in business, but then again, lives are not at stake. So what are the conditions you need to have met to solidify sales?
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