Saturday, September 12, 2015

From the Marketing Desk: Examples of Why One Size Doesn't Fit All

Last weekend I wrote about silver bullets. Seems like everyone wants a superficial quick fix to everything these days. Truth is, whether it's business or anything else in life, it's just not that simple.

For a short period of time over three decades ago I had a job inside the executive search firm world. I met a fellow who had experienced tremendous success as an executive recruiter. To achieve this success he lived and breathed it night and day. His was a small firm of six but his clients were big, big companies. 

When I visited his office he was often dressed in grey sweatpants with holes in the knees. Sneakers. Well-worn T-shirt. Very casual. He spent his days working the phones and studied hundreds of business magazines to find potential candidates to fill positions. He maintained an incredibly organized filing system with impressive cross-referencing. This was the era before computer databases. He was good at the game and earned substantial commissions when he placed people. 

On one occasion I went to see him -- we'll call him Jack here -- and I was more than mildly surprised to see him in a tuxedo with tails. "Whoa!" I thought, and said something like, "You're pretty dapper today. What's the occasion?" 

Jack replied that he had to meet with a VP of Honeywell to explain why he'd failed to acquire someone to replace an important senior scientist who was retiring at the end of the year. The man who was retiring had given 18 months notice because he understood that he was doing very specialized work and it would not be easy to find someone. 

Now Jack had been paid 30K in advance to get a replacement. He was given 18 months. The knowledge set was so stringent that only 178 people in the whole world were qualified, and they did not all live and work in the United States. He would not only have to find someone who might be interested in leaving their situation, but the family would have to move to Minnesota. In this business the big stickler is that the man's wife and kids are usually already embedded in a community elsewhere, often in the Southwest. They might be living in their dream home, and they were seldom thrilled about Minnesota's thirty-below winter weather. 

Needless to say, the approach to finding this kind of candidate is far different another situation I witnessed a few years later in Duluth.

My wife and I moved to Duluth in the spring of 1986. I didn't have a job lined up at the time but felt confident. I was seeking a writer position at the time and even though the economy was still feeling the effects of the Reagan recession I felt confident because the good writers would either already be employed or would have gone to the Twin Cities, where the economy was in recovery already.

One day the newspaper had a front page story about how the new paper mill in West Duluth had one hundred openings and over 12,000 applicants from all across the Northland.

Upon reflection today its apparent today that although both companies were seeking to fill a position or positions, the approach in each case was very different. The latter was more like the offshore fishermen who for centuries developed a method of locating schools of fish and casting nets. The first required locating one single fish at a time, getting him to take the bait and then wrestling him in, a la Old Man and the Sea.

As the saying goes, different strokes for different folks.

A high school friend has developed an executive training firm that takes lessons from Civil War battlefields and makes vivid their application to business. Every battlefield is different, and the strategies required for victory vary. Though there are features common to all, the lay of the land imposes variables that alter the approach a general or leader must take to attain victory. General Grant's victory at Vicksburg broke the back of the South, but his approach proved very different from what was required to later end the war in Virginia.

What's your situation? Are you developing a strategic plan or are you now in the execution phase. Whether you're marketing a book, or attempting to grow market share, there are a variety of ways to achieve your end. I like to say, "The right way is the way that works." If you're still searching, I hope you'll find it. 

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