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Just Good Enough–The Minimum Viable Sales/Marketing Strategy

by David Brock on October 2nd, 2013

Anyone familiar with the work of Eric Ries in the Lean Startup or Steve Blank’s books know the concept of the Minimum Viable Product.  Their works focus on the need to for rapid experimentation, learning, and improvement in bringing new products to the markets. 

For years, I’ve been a proponent of “Just Good Enough,” as a sales or marketing strategy.  Perhaps in today’s context, Just Good Enough might be called The Minimum Viable Sales/Marketing Strategy. 

Too often, I think we fail to change and adapt rapidly enough.  We’re a business culture of careful planning, risk avoidance, fear of making mistakes, analysis paralysis, fear of change, “if it ain’t broke,”  or just plain complacency.  Choose whichever descriptors that fit.

Yet we’re surrounded with data that says we aren’t meeting our goals or we are not relevant to customers.  So something isn’t working.

The concept of minimum viable product is appealing because it’s rapid, real world learning—with customers.  When you think about it, it’s such a natural approach to growing and improving our ability to engage customers.  Why not make the customer part of our continual learning and improvement process?  Why not engage them, their ideas and feedback to rapidly tune our strategies to more effectively engage them?

Over the past year, I’ve seen so many “massive efforts.”  One organization I spoke to had spend 4 months evaluating their sales process, analyzing the best way to engage customers and to improve their effectiveness.  They were still months away from a launch–a pilot at that.  Or the marketing team that a year ago discovered it’s lead gen efforts weren’t producing the needed results that is still struggling with how to improve them, right now they are thinking about SEO.  The poor sales team is starving for leads–so they’ve decided to do their own thing. 

I see examples of this everyday.  I understand it–kind of.  Resources and funding are scarce.  We can’t afford to waste them.  Too many organizations have cultures that don’t tolerate mistakes or failure–so people are afraid to change or study things to death.

We need to radically rethink what we do.  Rather than striving for perfection, we need to strive for Just Good Enough.  We need to develop cultures which embrace thoughtful experimentation, rapid learning, continuous improvement. 

No strategy or program is ever perfect.  We refine and improve them through learning what works and what doesn’t  But we don’t do that in task force meetings or internal strategy sessions.  We can’t learn and improve without the customer.

So let’s start growing, let’s start changing, let’s do that with the customers.  Adopt a strategy of Just Good Enough.  Build the Minimum Viable Sales/Marketing Strategy.  Realize it’s just the starting point, learn from it, improve it, learn, improve……. execute!

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  1. Dave, I love this blog. Frankly, I think it is one of the most important topics for business leaders to understand. I often describe it as “whack-a-mole” strategy vs. systemic strategy.

    In “whack-a-mole” strategy, leaders often push the agenda that benefits them most (and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the organization), but they do not recognize and/or care about the impacts on other parts of the business. This creates a ton of unintended consequences, which appear as “moles” popping their heads up. People try to whack the moles while still driving toward squeezing every possible drop of “success” from their strategy – which actually creates even more moles and derails the sustainability of their strategy. The result is that the word “strategy” eventually becomes code for a tick-the-box mentality, a constant criticism of stuff from the corporate headquarters.

    In systemic strategy, business leaders recognize the entire organization is one, single system – and a complex one at that. Because there is no way to control the system (it lives on its own), they constantly influence it instead, trying to shape its growth with “good enough” initiatives that can experience real success without causing unnecessary disruption to other elements in the system. When an organization is running 10, 20, or 100 “strategic” initiatives in a year, “good enough” is actually the ideal approach because it causes the least amount of unnecessary disruption to the rest of the initiatives. And by doing that, the system can – and will – adapt to the strategy.

    What do you think?

    • Thanks for the thoughts Tim. You always cause me to dig deeper. I wrote a post the other day called Band-Aid sales management. It described the same thing you are describing. I think too often, managers do this. Partly because they don’t know any better, partly because is provides the “appearance” of getting things done, partly because they have no framework in which to understand how things interrelate—-which gets us to one of our favorite topics, problem solving. The only way to address complex systems and issues is to have both a framework and a problem solving approach.

      The just good enough strategy fits well within problem solving, and surprisingly, Lean/Agile methods, because it is rooted in rapid experimentation, continuous learning, continuous improvement. These are key problem solving capabilities.

      Too often, we analyze, strategize, and plan in conference rooms. We develop the most elegant programs and initiatives. We have rich collateral and support behind them. Forget the time it took to do this was so long that it’s no longer relevant, forget that it’s not been tested in the real world with the intended victims—I mean sales people and customers.

      Rapid experimentation, learning and improvement is key to driving performance. Thanks as always, for causing me to dig deeper on this. Regards, Dave

  2. Doug Schmidt permalink

    Dave again great points on the importance of culture on bringing new products to the market and new initiatives internally in an organization. It brings to mind the friction – “simple is difficult” and “difficult is impossible” to getting things done. I may be overstating the importance of leadership, cultural and organizational dynamics in getting things done. Maybe my US Marine Corp. friends have a point when they say “don’t just stand there, move forward and do something”! Or maybe I am making too simplistic or am I? Dave and the contributors to this blog keep up the great work – ask the hard questions, call out the stupid/unmindful and as my US Marine Colonel friend may say – “Keep attacking”!

    • Doug, thanks so much. Leadership is at the core of all this. The other day I wrote a post on Band Aid Management, where I laid out a framework for managers. At the very top of the framework was leadership. Without that, all else fails.

  3. Dave;

    Years ago I worked for an executive named Merle Baty. Kind of a crusty, crafty veteran. He had an expression when observing a group in a seemingly endless cycle of analyze, prepare, build, refine…but never act. Merle would observe that they were…

    “Fixin’ to get ready. Never done anything, but they’re sure fixin’ to get ready.”

    You are more eloquent, and certainly on point. Whether seeking perfection or avoiding failure, the point is to prepare reasonably and then get in the game. Nobody ever hit a major league slider by preparing in a batting cage. Only by taking your game to the real world will your preparation be refined to work there.

    Your writing is consistent with Colin Powell. Fast forward to Lesson 15. It’s not about irresponsible action, it’s about overt, meaningful action.

    Thanks for the post…Jim

  4. Dave thank you for this post.

    I believe at the root of the phenomenon you describe is a wrong understanding of what strategy is. In today’s turbulent time it cannot be a detailed master plan of of our course of action over the next 18 to 36 month. Henry Mintzberg’s work was very inspirational to help me making the transition and starting to view a strategy as something that evolves. It is therefore sufficient to have a goal and an idea of the first solid steps that move you in the direction of this goal. The main thing is that you keep the goal i mind and adapt your strategy to the changed in the environment.

    I have met many people who came very frustrated out of a long planning cycle lasting several moths. By the time they wanted to start implementation, the plan was no longer valid as the environment had changed and underlying assumptions proved to be already obsolete.

    Thisenormous planning approach will also lead to a mind set of chasing the “huge hairy goal”. Since this thing is so huge, and takes herculean efforts it will never get done because there are always more pressing issues that need attention first. BJ Fogg shows a refreshing different approach to change management with his 3 tiny habits concept.

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