Did you ever go hiking into remote wilderness areas? Remember the urgency in packing your gear, leaving early, and getting out on the trail? Experienced hikers know that hurrying is ok, but rushing can be dangerous. Less well known is that similar dangers apply when a company is identifying target market segments and planning how to go to market.
Managing a fast growing business is not for the faint hearted. Everything is new and needs to be set up from scratch. While management focuses on product development and market segmentation, they also are seeking capital, hiring key executive team members, and anxiously trying to find decent facilities for the next nine months. Whatever isn’t urgent and important at this moment soon will be, and all these tasks need doing. Unfortunately help isn’t available. Money is tight and frugality is the norm. The existing team has to get it all done, long hours or not.
Decisions made in this type of environment all have a sense of urgency, being made quickly and often with limited data. Getting decisions “mostly right” by using short-cuts is standard practice. Under these conditions, hurrying—even rushing—to a “good enough decision” is usually needed and even preferred.
But not always.
There are some critical areas where short-cuts and “good enough” decisions can lead to trouble; lose-the-company type trouble. In these areas the company must hurry, but not rush. Hurry to get to the decision, but not rush the decision resulting in an incorrect one. In this context, hurry conveys rapid decision making, but with care and diligence. Rushing conveys taking short-cuts and prioritizing a decision to move forward rather than reaching the right decision in a rapid manner. Given the normal decision-making process of growing businesses, recognizing the subtle difference between hurrying and rushing—and being disciplined to treat them differently—is not always easy.
The critical areas that should not be rushed usually have at least one of two characteristics. First, they require significant investments (time, talent, resources). Considerable confidence in the decision is needed if these investments are not to be squandered. The second characteristic is that the impact of a wrong decision is not easily corrected. One example of a “hurry, don’t rush” type decision is the hiring of a member of the senior management team. A wrong decision here causes management disruption, wasted ramp-up periods, and time spent correcting missteps. This is too high a price to pay for a wrong decision; such a decision simply must not be rushed.
A company’s decisions on its target market segmentation and the creation of a solid go-to-market plan are also critical areas that must not be rushed. Specifically, the company must identify the important first target market segments and align the requisite ingredients for a successful market launch. This effort involves many topics: customer needs, buying habits, product features, marketing deliverables, sales tools, support. Getting all this right is difficult and takes time.
The segment identification and go-to-market planning should be tightly integrated with product development. However, these decisions are too frequently left to when the product is “complete.” Much of this go-to-market information is dependent on customer feedback and can’t be generated inside the company. Collecting the information can be time consuming and is exacerbated by the fact that a few go-to-market activities can only be completed once the product and target segments are locked. Last-minute changes in product development bring intense pressure to “rush.”
Some may not consider these areas so critical. Maybe the go-to-market costs are not very expensive. Or, perhaps there are a number of likely segments and the time to optimize the targeted segments is significant; why not pick one and run with it? What’s the harm? This is equivalent to a hiker choosing a trail that looks “sort-of” right rather than studying the map—and backtracking if needed—to insure he is indeed on the correct trail. Being on the wrong trail can cost the hiker inconvenience, considerable trouble, and even death. Getting the target segments and go-to-market program wrong can bring similar results to a company.
What are the results of rushing? One set of consequences is internal. The company wastes an enormous amount of time, talent, and resources. If the target market segment has not been properly identified, significant sales efforts are wasted—like the hiker wasting his effort on the wrong trail. Salesmen and channel partners become frustrated by difficult, lengthy sales cycles with disappointing results. Pressure builds to close sales at any cost—even if unprofitable and bad for long-term business. Sales forecasts are missed and management, board, and investor scrutiny becomes onerous. The company, just like the hiker, gets discouraged when moving down the unexpected path.
The second consequence of rushing the segmentation and go-to-market is more external. Customers get frustrated trying to understand your product or get bored and lose interest. Without a tightly coordinated go-to-market message, even the right segment customers get confused and tune out. In both cases, a positive first impression is lost. Case studies and references (if any can be done) become less compelling. Like our hiker—bewildered, lost, and in danger—a company’s management, investors, and board can begin doubting the whole business plan and company direction.
Three management abilities are needed to prevent rushing decisions on target segmentation and go-to-market plans. First, management must recognize the need for well thought out decisions in these critical areas. Second, management must have the discipline to resist the temptation to rush. The lure of earlier revenue or the fear of missed schedules can weigh heavily on the executive team. Resolve to “hurry, don’t rush” is needed. Finally, management must recognize that some of these critical decisions will never be crystal clear. There is always uncertainty that further study won’t eliminate. These three management abilities require a “team” view rather than individual department perspective. Team members must work together to hurry to the right decision, rather than rush to a wrong one.
A sudden change in weather can dump enough snow to make a hiker uncertain of the return trail. A hurried—but not rushed—decision is needed to bring the hiker home safely. Making rapid decisions with care and diligence is quite different from rushing to a snap decision. Both might end up being wrong, but the careful and diligent path renders the best possible decision given the situation. The rushed, snap decision is a gamble. When deciding on customer target segmentation and go-to-market plans the choice should be to hurry, but don’t rush.