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Impartial voices provide the most impact

It can be difficult to gain business insight from those closest to the industry. TOM MARTIN encourages you to search for a more objective observer.

An article in The Economist concerning a public relations nightmare that US firm McKinsey & Co has experienced in recent years caught my attention.

The article explained that the firm’s model requires its consultants to sell themselves as ‘a solution shop’ with all the answers, rather than as a collaborative partner.

As The Economist article puts it, when you have to have all the answers all the time, “collective self-delusion” gets in
the way of practical idea creation.

The smuggest people in the room must have all the answers, which means sometimes they miss the obvious questions.

This brings me to the point of this article – the importance of asking the right questions, and the connections those questions have with real, impactful solutions.

Over the past decade, I’ve continuously found that starting with the most basic questions is the best way to arrive at innovative and impactful marketing strategies.

Lacking objectivity

If you’re a small business owner, you may have noticed that it can be very difficult to gather strong marketing strategy insights from your staff.

“Over the past decade, I’ve continuously found that starting with the most basic questions is the best way to arrive at innovative and impactful marketing strategies.”

Asking questions is difficult — for starters it can be a real hit to the ego for the uninitiated.

Asking a question implies you don’t have all the answers and who wants to look like a fool who doesn’t know ‘the basics’ of an aspect of the business that is as important as marketing?

It’s much easier to jump to a quick-fix tactic, especially when the solution is a piece of fancy new software, a slick new ad spot, or the latest digital marketing fad or platform.

Tactical and quick solutions rarely solve the problem which also means they aren’t all that quick. The real answers to the big questions come from digging deep into the weeds and taking the time to question everything from the ground up.

The truly transformational ideas come after those surface-level responses. In fact, transformational ideas usually sound odd and unworkable when they’re first introduced.

Three options

When it becomes obvious that the tried and true solutions are failing, it’s usually a good time to consider the perspective of an outside or external voice.

A smart, innovative, and trustworthy observer is ideal if you can find one.

You’ll need someone you can rely on to investigate everything there is to know about your business, category, or competition. From there, you need to give them permission to ask even the most basic questions and challenge your answer with ‘why?’ And when you tell them why, challenge again with ‘why?’

When you embrace this approach a handful of wonderful things can happen.

• Remove institutional bias: Sometimes it’s difficult to see the forest from the trees. There’s no shame in having biases, we all have them and the longer you’re in your industry or company, the more likely you are to become blind to them.

The real issue comes when you allow a bias to get in the way of innovation. Hiring an outside voice to remind you of the truths right in front of your nose is a great way to check your assumptions and rewrite your understanding of ‘reality.’

• End the quick-fix cycle: Looking for a band-aid solution is a mistake and we all know it. Quick fixes rarely pan out the way we’d like. Either they work just well enough that we keep them around longer than they were intended stay in place, or they don’t work at all and we’re back to square one.

Either way, you end up with something broken again, and still in need of rectifying.

• Save time and money: If you fail to plan you plan to fail. Unfortunately for many business owners, the rapid response the internet age has caused us to make split-second decisions with little or no critical thinking, instead of seeking the correct response to a dilemma. 

These kneejerk reactions are costing businesses money, opportunity, and time. Instead of launching holistic
long-term solutions, many people simply pursue endless cheap tactics that add up to nothing. 

Second opinion

If your business is stuck running up against the wall of possibilities it might be time for an outside voice — preferably one who comes with an open mind and a lot of ‘why’ to help you find your ‘how’.

A quality observer understands that it’s not their job to be smarter than you. They’re comfortable being the ‘dumbest’ people in the room because it ensures that you’ll be tested when it comes time to explain why the business is operating in the manner that it is.

It’s that belief and approach that allows a business to push through the walls of current thinking and challenge us to get curious, to inspire a thought or two, and from there, weave a solution for the problem that’s been frustrating you for too long.

Tom Martin

Contributor • Converse Digital

Tom Martin is the founder of Converse Digital, a sales and marketing agency. He is also a keynote speaker and author of The Invisible Sale. Visit:

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