Category Archives: Sales coaching and mentorship

Three Things You DON’T Need to Know for Sales Success

In Virginia, the day after Labor Day means back-to-school. A tradition that reminds us that summer has entered its final fade, taking with it the sweet scent of suntan lotion, long days, warm nights, and fireflies. The day means boxy yellow school buses filling the roadways, and thousands of kids heading from home in the still-bright morning with oversized backpacks, new haircuts, and – one hopes – aspirations for learning.

But this season, something feels odd. Presidential candidate Donald Trump recently told the country, “Sometimes it’s better to know too little than too much.” He was talking about NATO, or more specifically, excusing his lack of understanding about it. Did young students receive his message?

“Gee, Mrs. Gimmelfarb, World History seems like a TOTAL waste of time. Why do we need to study it?” For Mrs. Gimmelfarb and other teachers confronting this question, my sympathies. You deserve more pay. Or, at least a public discussion that doesn’t glorify willful ignorance.

Yet, after thinking about Trump’s Declaration of Ignorance, I began to wonder if he’s right. Could people be required to learn things they don’t need to know or understand, or asked to spend time with subjects that have little value later on? Should We Stop Teaching Calculus in High School? Point taken. There are only so many hours in a school day.

As I pondered these questions, I got pinged with an email notification: “Please check out this article, What Neuroscientists Can Teach You About the Brain-To-Brain Process of Selling. Lead sentence: “A good salesperson knows how to use the brain to her or his advantage.” Thanks – helpful to know.

But that vacuous teaser, and the highfalutin sound of Brain-to-Brain Process confirmed my skepticism, and catapulted me into assembling this list of questionable knowledge that’s pushed at salespeople:

1. Neuroplasticity, and other “brain science.” Sales writers often reference brain science because doing so adds gravitas and sagacity.  The assertions can get comical:

When the brain overloads, it produces cortisol, a stress hormone, which reduces the tendency to buy.


The brain typically does not retain information in the hippocampus, which is where memory lives, until it hears something three times. Savvy salespeople create a repetitive loop by telling the customer a key piece of information, looping back a little later to remind them again and then looping back a third time to seal the deal. What’s weird about this system is that telling a customer four, five, six or seven times doesn’t enhance that memory, says Robb Best, author of an article, Minding your Sales. “Three is the magic number,” he says.

Fair enough. Three it is! Then, a different finding that upends three: The Rule of 7. This article informs us that “a prospect needs to see or hear your marketing message at least seven times before they take action and buy from you.” Then, the writer backpedals, sharing that the number seven isn’t “cast in stone,” but that “you can’t just engage in a marketing activity and then be done.” Here, I’ll call a foul: you can’t proclaim something a rule and weaken it at the same time.

Does learning such numbers, or the “science” behind them, matter? And what about the cortisol-producing stress hormone purported to reduce the tendency to buy? Does this factoid contradict the widely-held belief creating buying urgency can be useful for marketing and sales? Imagine a salesperson who says, “. . . Sure, if it means less cortisol travelling to your brain, please – take as long as you need to decide . . .”

“There’s no such thing” as a magic number, Chip Heath and Dan Heath wrote in their book about persuasion, Made to Stick. So, to me, packaging stuff as brain science amounts to pseudo-intellectual silliness. Better not learned, or at least, not learned this way.

What to learn instead: Empathy. Harder to teach, and for some, harder to learn. Start by not obsessing over numbers. Three? Seven? 148.7 Gazillion? The number of times a customer should see a marketing message before succumbing can’t be generalized. And if the message stinks to begin with, well . . . then let’s agree the magic number should be zero.  Next,  question the conclusions others make about cognitive research, especially those made by non-scientists, or people whose top listed attributes are “internationally-known speaker” and “sought-after seminar leader.” Self-credentialed, of course. Those gratuitous accolades should make any person’s BS antennae glow brightly.

When salespeople educate themselves about how to see and feel the experiences of others, they can also learn how their own actions are perceived. That insight produces powerful competitive advantages in any sales situation.

2. ‘Success traits’ for salespeople that other salespeople report. They’re all over the map: Work ethic, effort, coachability, sales intelligence, problem solving, and driven, confident, outgoing, assertive, funny, structured, relational,and focused – to name just a few.

Those conclusions are tenuous because they often infected with hindsight bias – the tendency to see a particular outcome as being predictable, even when there’s little basis for predicting it. Mostly, success trait assertions are little more than mom-and-apple-pie platitudes. (Who can dispute that problem-solving skills are crucial for every occupation or profession?) Yet, there’s a constant appetite for such lists. Maybe because they’re paragons of behavioral perfection. No mortal can achieve all of the characteristics, but few want to throw in the towel while pursuing them.

Sometimes, success traits can be deceptive when they are based on narrow circumstances, or drawn from situations others rarely encounter. I hold no doubts that being funny could be helpful for a salesperson calling on an executive at the Comedy Central Network. But I’ve known some decidedly un-funny sales reps who clobbered competitors while producing impressive revenue.

For the recent article I wrote on this topic, Lazy, Un-Coachable Sales Rep Produces Record Revenue, I examined success-trait lists ranging from three elements to eighteen, and discovered a curious pattern: honesty and integrity were absent from every one. A curious scarcity for a profession that pridefully promotes the power of being perceived as a Trusted Advisor.

What to learn instead: traits, habits, and characteristics that customers want in salespeople, or discovering What Customers Value .

3. How to forecast accurately. A common preoccupation in selling, but one that’s unproductive. People have written gobs of articles on this topic, and presenters have devoted countless Powerpoint slides to making a case for its importance. But I’ll consolidate a Forecast Accuracy How-to into three easy-to-follow steps, simple to remember:

Step #1: Select a sales opportunity that you’re really, really, really, really sure will close.

Step #2: Close the opportunity.

Step #3: Forecast the revenue just before submitting the order.

Congratulations! You have produced an accurate forecast. Just as important, you have avoided being wrong. Best of all, management will actually reward you for this feat! The problem is, an accurate forecast isn’t necessarily a valuable one. For example, if I close a contract with Customer X to provide 10,000 widgets per month for the next 12 months, I will, accurately, forecast sales of 120,000 widgets in monthly releases of 10,000 each – assuming that X doesn’t terminate the contract. But my accurate forecast provides little value to Production and Finance. They already know, so what I provided has no impact on planning.

Learning how to create accurate forecasts is more an exercise in manipulating sales information than in developing quality predictors, situational awareness, and useful insight. It’s an educational pathway that’s counter-productive for forecast quality.

What to learn instead: How to create a quality forecast. The point of the above exaggeration is to underscore the fallacy of pursuing forecast accuracy as a goal. The process of developing a quality forecast focuses on making the best assessments possible using logic, under conditions of uncertainty and limited information. That means selecting the right measurements and other input information, discarding what’s not meaningful, and constantly refining the inputs based on experience. It also means not just relying on past events to predict outcomes, but monitoring new, developing forces, and including them in the forecast model when appropriate. The goal of a quality forecast is to approach accuracy, but the forecast will never be accurate. In the forecasting world, accuracy means actual results = predicted results. And we came close is not the same.

Forecasts that involve human decision making will almost always be wrong. Judgement is always embedded in a decision forecast, and with judgement comes the possibility of error. So insisting on accuracy represents a fool’s errand. Forecasts are subject to mistakes, new conditions, unanticipated events, and the likelihood that some variables that could be meaningful will be omitted. Developing quality forecasts requires not fearing inaccuracy.

Human learning and machine learning are often compared, and there are many parallels: make a model, develop parameters, make adjustments to bring actual results closer to those that are planned or desired. But with human learning, we’ve become careless and sloppy. In marketing and sales, we too frequently squander time and resources on learning things that are unimportant or distracting, and sometimes encourage others to follow suit.

And thanks to Trump, ignorance has been anointed a new halo of acceptability. How ironic that if he were talking about robotic automation, we’d be screaming about compromised quality and defective products spewing off assembly lines. We’d vow never to buy ever again until software has been corrected, and processes improve.

How much better off could our economy be if we maintained similarly rigorous expectations for human learning, too?

Mental Health for Salespeople: A Topic that Needs a Discussion

When you visualize a top sales achiever, what comes to mind? A well-dressed, polished professional wearing a starched white shirt accessorized with a Mont Blanc pen, clipped to a conspicuously stain-free pocket? Someone with a winning smile who always seems proud, confident, and fit?

These trappings often mask an insidious reality. The day-to-day experiences that salespeople encounter are emotionally stressful and can jeopardize mental health.

“I am trying to get out of sales, but seems so hard to change fields because I have been in this for so long, so only way is to continue to be in sales and minimize the effects of depression on my job. Boy, let me tell you how tough that is. Along with depression comes low self esteem — but a good salesman should have too much confidence, not the other way,” a commenter, Jake1777, wrote on in 2008.

There are millions of Jake1777’s. They go to work every day. They cold call. They talk with clients. They close deals, too. People don’t like to read about them, let alone empathize with their angst.  They get brushed aside in a cold sales culture that venerates quota-busting men and women who bring in the revenue bacon.

Blogs and articles spew idealizations of top producers as “superheroes” who are relentlessly positive, tenacious, and goal-driven. People who don’t make excuses, and never quit. The others? Get rid of them. Sayoonara. Adios, pal.  Business is business.  “Oh yeah, I used to be a salesman, it’s a tough racket.” Blake’s mocking sarcasm in Glengarry Glen Ross. Everyone knows how resilient salespeople are, even the bad ones. No need to be cordial.

It’s time to dump the sales superhero archetype. Not only is it grossly misleading, it subverts the mental health risks that salespeople must manage. Difficulties of any magnitude can overwhelm the best salespeople. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. And many highly successful peers have confided it to me. Among the professions surveyed in the recent National Survey of Drug Use and Health, Sales ranked #11 for jobs that can lead to depression, with a rate of 6.7 percent. I don’t know a single sales veteran who hasn’t slammed hard into an emotional wall somewhere. Superheroes? Not at all. I call it being human.

People often self-select into sales because they like the simple calculus: make your number, stay on the team. Fall short, you’re a bum. There’s no ground in between. Even top-producers can be unceremoniously churned from their jobs when revenue attainment goes south. For many, the send-off “ceremony” is held in a sterile room or office. It begins with a formulaic conversation capped off with a terse handshake, and an escorted walk to HR for the obligatory exit interview.  “Sorry we had to let you go, but don’t let the door hit you in the rear on the way out. Oh, before I forget – here’s a box to carry your Achiever’s plaques.” If you want to retain a tiny ego in sales, it’s best to start off with one that’s over-sized.

On the other end, those prone to living quarter-to-quarter at the bottom echelons of revenue production have a different, but no less humiliating, outbound experience. They are regularly reminded of their failing through corporate programs deceptively called Performance Improvement Plans, or Plan, for short.  A better term would be slow-path-to-“you’re-fired.” “What percentage of the staff put on Plan become productive employees?” I ask clients. The frequent reply: “Zero.” I usually advise them to drop the program.

People like Jake1777 who clearly need help will find a dearth of compassion and earnest interest. Managers take the toughness that salespeople are expected to have as license to dish out condescension, and even abuse. “What have you done to justify your existence?” one sales manager I worked with asked a colleague who was below goal for the quarter.  She was the top producer in our group, and though normally stoic, the question brought her to tears.  In another situation, when I discussed with a senior executive who oversaw a division of 3,500 people about her decision to lay off most of the sales organization, she quipped, “I’m not worried about it. Salespeople can always get jobs.” If she had added “let them eat cake,” I would not have heard through the steam blasting out of my ears.

Not everyone thrives as a salesperson. Not everyone can thrive. And not everyone thrives all the time. Senior managers must first stop regarding salespeople as unfailingly resilient. That’s a harmful myth. They must acknowledge that significant emotional strains and hazards accompany selling, and understand that they carry deleterious mental health risks for high producers and low producers alike. No one is immune. They should care enough to learn and recognize the warning signs. The website for the National Institute of Mental Health offers more information.

Above all, companies must recognize that good mental health for every individual is a crucial part of sales readiness. Culture sets the tone. “Only one thing counts in this life. Get them to sign on the line which is dotted!” Blake said in Glengarry. A great motivating statement. One that might produce short-term revenue. But not one that preserves mental health.

How to Avoid Landing the Sales Job from Hell

Sometime in the next 12 months, you’re going to experience a back-you-into-the-corner-sign-the-contract-right-now appeal. A full-frontal sales pitch that homes right in on your jugular vein. I gaaaah-ron-teeeeeee it!

For what? Used cars? Home security systems? Timeshares in Aruba? No. The hiring speil from the VP of Sales who wants you to work for him, badly. He spews his company’s marketing fireballs with verve so powerful, it would make the most polished televangelist envious: “Our product sells itself! . . . We have no competitors! . . . The market on freaking fire! . . . Employees are our most valuable asset . . .”

Mmmmmmm. That sweet intoxicating aroma of money, with a hint of personnel love on the side. “You had me at ‘I just reviewed your profile, and . . .’ but let’s move on, and talk about comp, shall we?”

“Sure. At plan, you will earn . . .”

The numeral at the beginning has seductive curves, and it’s followed by the expected number of decimal places. The figure has mostly zeroes, with a smattering of 5’s cleverly embedded to break the monotony. “Talk to me. I’m listening . . .”

There’s further upbeat conversation. No smiling, though, but lots of direct eye contact. “At plan, you will earn . . .” I become giddy thinking about a second house, a boat, and a less-hungry, more-corpulent 401K.

Still, that subtle hedge, at plan, nags at me. At plan. Drat! Always a sour flavor that despoils the compensation stew. But I understand. Even though its taste cannot be masked, no right-minded company would dare remove that essential ingredient. Reality, biting again. Tacit admission that when it comes to making quota, [stuff] happens. Agreed – those risks must be shared. After all, I’m no socialist!

But here, let’s cut to the chase: No matter how compelling the income opportunity might be, at plan always carries a continuum of probabilities – from achievable to not-a-snowball’s-chance. The problem is, how can you tell? And how do you assess whether you will make the right decision by accepting the VP’s ardent appeal to join his team?

Before I answer those questions, please allow short digression to share something about the deleterious properties of quicksand. Hang in there with me. If you’re unclear about my reasons, they will become apparent shortly. Quicksand: “deep, wet sand into which heavy objects sink easily.” Or, the metaphorical meaning, “a situation that is dangerous and difficult to escape from.” Talk to anyone who has been selling for a while, and just by mentioning the word, you’ll hear a raw, emotional story about a past gig. A recounting rich in wisdom and saturated with insights. Take copious notes. They will help you avoid walking into a comparable trap.

OK. Where were we? Assessing. Right! Or, to be precise, assessing risk. Hard to do when comp – I mean, potential comp – obscures every important concern. But Gerry Cullen, author of The Coldest Call: Why Some Good Products Don’t Sell, provides a valuable risk-assessment framework for candidates seeking sales positions. His book, a straightforward counterpoint to the pervasive salesforce sucks tripe that infects the blogosphere, is an entertaining read, eloquently written. Had it been published twenty years ago, it would have saved me untold angst.

At plan, you will earn . . .” Before you initial Accept on the employment contract the VP has pushed toward you across his desk, before you prematurely trade in the six-year-old Scion you bought used, and replace it with a brand new German-built ride, take a moment to consider what Cullen examines when determining whether a salesperson can succeed at a company – or more ominously, whether a company can succeed for a salesperson:

1. Pain. If no one at the company can articulate anything coherent about the pain the company solves, you probably won’t have the patience to invest the time figuring it out. Cullen writes, “It’s a joy to work with companies that have a clear understanding of the pain their products eliminate. They understand the purpose of their efforts and understand why people like and buy their products. They know what they are good at, and may have a shot at being the best in their product category . . . On the other hand, it’s far harder to sell for companies that don’t use pain as part of their dogma. The salesperson has to create the pain statement on their own and bridge the gap between the company’s products and the prospect’s needs – a process that takes much longer and has a good chance for error.”

2. Promotion. Some companies dump the business development brick onto the shoulders of the sales force. Marketing, outbound lead generation, prospecting, qualification. Even content development. The whole kahuna. “Hey, we’re a lean company! Besides, if we just hand opportunities to sales, they’ll get lazy!” But, as Cullen writes, “Cold calling is terribly time consuming and generally it has a low rate of return. The task is finding out what your prospective company does to generate qualified leads for you and what sales support tools they have to help close the order.”

3. Price. Are the company’s prices and pricing policies clear and unambiguous? Can they be explained without your eyes glazing over? Equally important, are prices readily accessible, or are they squirreled away somewhere deep within the company’s document management system – or worse, just stuck inside someone’s head. “You can learn a lot about a company by examining how it prices products,” he writes. “It’s not what the actual price is, it’s getting the price to the prospect without confusion or hassle.”

4. Policy/culture. How does the company’s management regard its sales organization? As something valuable and necessary? Or, as a necessary evil? Does the company promote its star salespeople into new, challenging positions, or does it churn and burn? Does the company have star salespeople? Ask current employees, past employees, and people who have done business with the company. You’ll feel the vibe.

Deal breakers

Many sales veterans can relate a story about a job they accepted, or stayed in, even when their better judgment told them not to. A curious weakness that commonly plagues sales professionals, made poignantly funny through a dark joke in Cullen’s book:

A salesman meets a super model at a seminar, falls in love, and announces to his friends that he plans to marry her. His friends immediately advise him that she is an alcoholic and a drug user. They further counsel that, once married, she will bankrupt him, be unfaithful, and leave him despondent. “But still. . .” is his classic response.

Such delusional outlooks are often confused with positive thinking. “You can do anything you want if you have the right drive and motivation.” True. Just make sure to append “. . . but don’t be an idiot.” to that inspiring quote. If your assessment uncovers the following radiant-red flags, don’t sweep them under the rug, because they should be regarded as deal breakers, or at least give you reason to pause:

1. Commission or earnings caps.
2. A compensation plan that’s undocumented, unclear, or utterly indecipherable.
3. No compensation plan. “We’re working on it, and promise to have it you when you start.”
4. Less than 50% of the sales force makes quota.
5. Higher than normal sales force churn.
6. No resources committed to sales force development or skills training.
7. Racist, sexist, or obscene remarks made in the job interview.
8. Other comments or remarks made during the interview, or in other conversations, that are patently bizarre or inappropriate.
9. Employer contrives an annoyingly stressful situation to see how you will react.
10. Employer disrespects your time by being grossly late for the interviews and meetings, or by continually accepting phone calls and other interruptions during the interview.
11. Employer fails to disclose litigation history with salespeople, former employees, and/or customers.
12. Website content and corporate communications contain major factual inaccuracies, especially claiming marquis accounts as customers when they are not.
13. Sloppy corporate communications that include bad writing and poor grammar.
14. A CEO with a track record of running failed companies.
15. No significant new product introductions in previous 12 months (six months for IT companies).

Finally, in recruitment postings, be wary of the following phrases:

“Hunters wanted.”
What it means: “Our marketing and sales teams don’t work together, so lead gen is up to you.”

“Must be a self-starter.”
What it means: “Our work environment is stultifying.”

“Able to work independently.”
What it means: “Don’t expect anyone here to support or mentor you.”

“No limit on earnings.”
What it means: “You’ll get little or no base salary.”

“Must be comfortable multi-tasking in a fast-paced environment.”
What it means: “We operate in crisis mode, 24/7.”

As we know from Tarzan, quicksand can be deceptively camouflaged. The same for sales jobs from Hell. Everything looks great, until, flooooooossssshhhhhh! – you’re consumed in a swirl of passive aggression, confusion, leaderless meandering, finger-pointing, and overwhelming aggravation. Not to mention, you’ll realize that the at plan compensation discussed in your interview was only a mirage.

Even the best sales organizations have sales impediments, so seeking job perfection will lead to frustration. But knowing ahead of time what quicksand feels like under your feet will help you avoid sinking in it.

Are Salespeople Too Nice?

I’m about to reveal some perspectives that upend commonly-held ideas. Perspectives that not everyone will want to accept. If you’re OK with that, read on.

First, great salespeople are not commission-driven automatons, happily impervious to the emotional pain that comes with rejection and disappointment. Second, some highly successful salespeople aren’t fawning customer-centric servants. Contrary to popular lore, salespeople go about their jobs every day conducting a tangle of different actions that are uneven and idiosyncratic, just like other professionals.

Every so often, a particular behavior gets pulled out of this stew, destined for the chopping block. Last week, Jill Konrath called out gratitude, a de facto sales standard, by suggesting salespeople abandon a banal opening nice-ity: “Thanks so much for meeting with me today, Terry. I really appreciate your time.” As she explained it, “You sound like a hopeful wannabe,” adding, “Nice people are the worst offenders.” (Are You an Unintentional Sales Wuss?).

Her recommendation? Say, “’Good to meet with you, Terry. As I said when we set this up, I’ve got some ideas that can help you out with [fill in the business reason].’” I like it. Peacock-proud. Confident. And, not a shred of obsequiousness. “Thanks”, nowhere in sight. Not here, anyway.

But that opening might carry too much swagger for some. Graham Hill commented on my January 5th blog, objecting to my recommendation that salespeople require quid pro quo when working with prospects. He wrote, “. . . all of the power ultimately lies with the buyer. If the salesman resorts to the kind of self-serving ‘tricks’ you describe and they don’t have a unique, winning solution the buyer absolutely must have, he should remind the salesman whose money is being spent and who controls the purse strings. It really is as simple as that.” Translation: salespeople are subordinate, period.

Each of these views promotes different behavioral ideals for salespeople. “Walk in proudly” versus “tail-between-the-legs supplication.” Neither works well in the extreme, or in isolation. Good etiquette and empathy are increasingly rare social skills, and they differentiate salespeople from their competitors. It’s a stretch to think that by expressing sincere thanks to a prospect, a salesperson would suffer a tactical disadvantage. On the other hand, salespeople who aren’t assertive and self-serving don’t become top-producers, they become doormats, to use sales vernacular.

Can salespeople be too nice? I don’t think so. But absent from any context, formulating an opinion about what is the “right” sales mindset is impossible. Don’t even try. Buyers and sellers engage with one another within a complex jumble of power that’s constantly asymmetrical, and forever shifting. That reality alone makes it hard to proclaim that bravado and assertiveness trumps courtesy and humility—or vice versa.

In-your-face proud, or humble. Top producers will figure out how to best combine these and other attitudes. Their words and actions will be anything but even. And that works just fine.

Do You Know What Your Customers Are Really Buying From You?

Originally published 03/19/08

How does an enterprise create sustainable value? Through listening to customers and innovating products and services they want to buy? Or by creating a product and hoping the world beats a path to its door (or website) to buy it?

The better answer—listening to customers and innovating products and services accordingly—plays well in PowerPoint presentations under the Why We’re Customer-centric banner, but many truly smart people still don’t get it.

An article, The Innovation Illusion, by Sergio Zyman, contains a compelling real-world example. “While Sony was busy making colorful new versions of personal, portable CD players, Apple was out there redefining portable entertainment. Sony should have introduced iPods, not Apple. So what was the domain of Sony is now Apple’s forever.”

If Sony can find solace about squandering an opportunity it created almost 30 years ago, it’s in the fact they have plenty of company. In February, Polaroid Corporation announced it would cease manufacturing virtually all of its instant film, closing three plants in the process. Polaroid’s explanation: “marketplace conditions,” which is business-speak for “so few people want to buy our products that we can’t afford to produce them.”

If you were born before 1980, you’ll recognize these other not-seen-lately products to add to the dustbin: water beds, dustbusters, cigarette vending machines, mimeograph machines, and multi-media all-in-one stereo systems. The list goes on. The all-important wall-mounted pencil sharpeners that used to adorn almost every school and workplace? Made obsolete by computers and mechanical pencils. Many of the companies that were dominant suppliers are no longer in business. Marketplace conditions also likely claimed the financial stability of the ecosystems of people and companies that produced these products—parts suppliers, retailers, resellers and distributors, and sales forces.

So why do some companies closely tied to blockbuster successes like Polaroid Film and the Sony Walkman lose momentum while other companies perpetuate through other offerings? A new book, Think Two Products Ahead, by Ben Mack, explains why, making a case for understanding customer need and building brand equity to support it. Mr. Mack supports his point by describing how in the late 1800’s, Wells Fargo transitioned from a delivery company to a financial services company by understanding that trust was what their customers were really buying. “Trust is the essence of the Wells Fargo brand, more than its physical banks, checks, or even its name. The name became a symbol of this trust, but without this trust, the company would have evaporated when the government took over Wells Fargo’s express business. It was the customers’ willingness to do business with Wells Fargo that allowed it to continue when the business suddenly had to switch product offerings. It was the business managers leveraging Wells Fargo’s common thread that facilitated the company finding new business opportunities.”

What creates the success-failure chasm between companies like Wells Fargo and Sony and Polaroid? Could it be in the questions they ask—or not? Did Wells Fargo survive through astute introspection? Were senior managers from Sony and Polaroid so enamored with their own revolutionary technologies that they failed to later ask the same questions that ironically might have helped create their own breakthroughs? These questions include:

What does our next customer want to buy?

What emerging forces will impact our business?

Are there new business models or technologies that should be adapted to deliver radical improvements in the value we provide?

What proprietary advantages must we exploit to sustain or improve our market position?

Are there shifts in market power or industry fragmentation that create new sales opportunities?

A historical comparison will prove that asking questions such as these—and taking action on the answers—have played an important role in every successful product or business venture. Curiosity has great innovative power.

The next time I nostalgically remember a product or company made newly-extinct by marketplace conditions, I’ll just say “We bought one of those! It worked so great at the time.” But I won’t need to guess about what happened.

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