Whenever a business is not functioning well in terms of production, delivery, sales or profits at the bottom of its difficulties will often be found a lack of basic data about the vacuum power of customer needs and its potential and plenty of assumptions about producing things, servicing customers or marketing and selling which are undermining the success of the business.
It’s these assumptions which result in an inability to think with the basics of that business and an inability to attract or service customers.
A business owner will make idiotic mistakes, miscalculate efforts, and jump to the wrong conclusions while operating with these assumptions. The assumptions spread in the same way that most things spread - by word of mouth. Defeated, exhausted salespeople pass on their firm conclusions about selling and its hazards to the next generation; tired, disillusioned old hands relay their opinions about production to the incoming youngsters; worn-out, failed marketing professionals come out with words of 'wisdom' as they are replaced. It all spells 'dangerous assumptions' and it will all hold your business back from its true potential unless these assumptions are isolated and seen for what they are: false and perilous to profits and expansion. Dangerous assumptions are usually spread by Non-Buyers - people who can’t see vacuums or have become disillusioned about them. (For what 'vacuums' are in this context and what to do with them, see the book How Businesses Really Work.)
A business leader is told by a marketing advisor, 'It doesn’t matter how much money we spend on the campaign. We need to generate numbers and marketing is a numbers game.' The business leader uses this datum and what follows is a drained company budget and little response from the marketplace.
The business leader, not realising that this 'perfectly sensible' datum is ruining his business, continues to pour money into the marketing campaign which is pushing his products down the throats of resistive and disinterested customers, even borrowing further funds in order to do so, hoping that the spending will result one day in a massive turn-around in the company’s fortunes, enabling him to pay back all the debts and retire comfortably. Meanwhile, share prices fall, customers exit and don’t come back, and hostile take-over looms.
The business leader, ruined and out of work at 55, probably still believes that 'It doesn’t matter how much money we spend on the campaign. We need to generate numbers and marketing is a numbers game.'
Business is full of dangerous assumptions of this kind. The cost can be measured by adding up national debts around the world. No nation should be in debt. Debt arises when there has not been enough attention paid to finding and filling vacuums. Trillions of pounds worth of debt means trillions of pounds worth of unfound and unfilled vacuums.
Some of those 'lost trillions' could be yours if you tap into the vacuums that are scattered around the environment, just waiting to be found and developed.
Whenever a business is having difficulty either in producing something or in delivering it or in finding enough customers to make a decent profit, when it can’t seem to acquire a significant portion of the traffic that it needs or when it looks as though it will struggle to get through the next financial year or even the next quarter, you can safely conclude that the business is operating on dangerous assumptions.
If you are having trouble getting the principles outlined in this book applied, you must first sort out the truth from the conflicting bits and pieces of information or opinion you may have acquired. This will get rid of the dangerous assumptions which are holding you back.
Dangerous assumptions about business can come from any number of sources. In the process of running any kind of enterprise, you will encounter and often accept all sorts of ideas which may seem to make sense but in practice don’t. In the world of business, this can be seen by the number of books about marketing, sales and organisation that float around: there are thousands of them, all giving well-worn but often conflicting advice about how to improve everything about your business.
Take the top marketing campaigns from an earlier chapter and the so-called 'lessons' that marketing experts recommend that we all learn from them:
Volkswagen supposedly taught us that 'honesty is the best policy'.
The Miller Lite campaign taught us to 'Strive to be different', be brave and invent a product in a marketplace in which you can become a leader.
Nike’s campaign allegedly taught us to tap into primal impulses.
De Beers diamond ring campaign tells us to convince your consumers that life without your product would be an incomplete existence.
Marlboro’s lesson is to do with creating a lifestyle around a particular product.
Mac’s campaign lesson: 'Explain your product’s benefits in a relatable way so consumers can relate'.
And Clairol’s marketing lesson? 'Conveying how your product works is more effective than talking about it.'
Let’s put that together. According to these dubious lessons, successful marketing is a case of being honest, striving to be different, brave and inventing a product in a marketplace in which you can become a leader, tapping into primal impulses, convincing your consumers that life without your product would be an incomplete existence, creating a lifestyle around your product, explaining your product’s benefits in a relatable way so consumers can relate and conveying how your product works rather than talking about it.
Great if you can do it - but it sounds like a complex process. So tricky, in fact, that you might be persuaded to spend thousands on a marketing company to do it for you.
The closest thing to a workable truth in that mixture of dangerous assumptions is the bit about tapping into a primal impulse. If you can find the vacuum of need beneath the customer’s surface presentation, you will be able to draw him or her and your product together with almost no effort. Assumptions like those above will make this seem more difficult and will get in your way.
It’s obviously difficult to spot dangerous assumptions if you don’t realise why they are dangerous and don’t know what a correct approach to marketing and production should be. Now that you have grasped these basics, it will be much easier to see them for what they are.
As you start to work on vacuums and begin to implement the techniques described in this book, some assumptions will arise and will be fairly easy to get rid of. As you go on, more and more assumptions will come to light at every level, in your marketing, your sales, your handling of finances, and in the production and distribution lines of your company.
Follow these steps and see if you can discover dangerous assumptions which are holding your business back.
Firstly, check to see whether or not the techniques from this book are actually being applied and getting results. If they are, then there probably aren’t too many dangerous assumptions blocking them and you may not need to proceed. If, however, you are running into resistance whether from yourself or your staff, perhaps even having arguments with them, and if you are not immediately noticing improvements in your acquisition of customers and money, look for dangerous assumptions like:
'Marketing doesn’t really work'
'Marketing is based on numbers and luck'
'Marketing is too expensive and needs to have its budget cut'
'Marketing is all about fooling or tricking the customer into buying a product'
'Marketing is about pushing products until the customer realises he or she must buy'
'Selling is difficult'
'Selling is based on numbers and charm'
'Selling is a process of tricking the customer into making a purchase'
'Sales requires an enormous investment of time and energy to overcome customer resistance'
'Customers all have an in-built resistance which one must work very hard to overcome'
'Business is all about making money'
'Business is about taking money from customers'
'The best product is the one you can overcharge for'
'The point of sale is the end of the process'
'Customers are ignorant and need to be convinced of the benefits of the product so that they will buy'
And so on.
Dangerous assumptions are limitless in number and subtle in wording. But, as you can probably appreciate, removing some of the above from your sphere of operations, whether that is your own head or within your workforce, will dramatically boost the performance of your business.
Once the person has realised that he or she has made a dangerous assumption which is blocking forward progress, it’s important that the more workable truth is explained again. In the case of the above examples, the truth would be:
'Marketing done properly is extremely powerful'
'Marketing is based on customer vacuums'
'Marketing is not expensive if done correctly'
'Marketing is all about using a customer’s vacuums to bring the customer and product together'
'Marketing is about finding and building upon vacuums until the customer is drawn closer to the product'
'Selling is not difficult if done properly'
'Selling is based on communication and customer vacuums'
'Selling is a process of helping the customer fill a vacuum'
'Sales requires an investment of communication and interest to discover customer vacuums'
'Customers all have an in-built set of vacuums which one should work to fill'
'Business is all about using vacuums'
'Business is about creating motion'
'The best product is the one that fills the customer’s vacuums exactly'
'The point of sale is part of a longer process'
'Customers are to some extent aware of inner vacuums and these can be used so that they will buy'
And so on.
It’s quite possible that some dangerous assumptions will stick and remain out of sight simply because you or the person you’re dealing with have such faith in them. Persistence in addressing them and in trying to apply these principles will get you there in the end.