Understanding Who Doesn’t Want You to Succeed is Just as Important as Knowing Who Your Raving Fans Are: How a Good Idea Can Get Torpedoed
A small company up in Fort Collins, Colorado, makes a product that I use. It has in many ways saved my life, in fact. It’s an oxygenation machine, with multiple settings, which allows me to do bike sprints at the equivalent of running full-tilt on the summit of Kilimanjaro.
Without going into lots of unnecessary detail, the product works. I need it because I’ve had so many concussions. Military folks who’ve been on it report- as have I- a return of function across the board. Folks with PTSD, concussions like mine, and the need to heal fast after an injury. This thing rocks.
Let’s discuss this. At any given time, the elite forces of the military have folks who have been sidelined for months or more due to catastrophic injury or mental stress. Anything that can put a pilot back into the cockpit, a Special Forces soldier behind enemy lines, is not only going to help that soldier out, but also allow the military to get a return on the enormous investment it has made in their skills. Sidelined pilots can’t fly. The average cost to train a military cockpit jockey ranges from $5.6–10.9 million, especially when it comes to high-performance aircraft.
When a superbly-trained soldier is down, male or female, that’s one hell of an investment that has been grounded. So you would think that the military would leap at the chance to get those folks back in the saddle, as it were.
This company’s product can do that. The owners were able to get a test going with a few pilots here in Colorado. The tests were going extremely well, when the folks from the local military medical facility barged in and shut the whole test down. The product manufacturers were booted out, unceremoniously. The pilots were getting better fast.
And that was a problem.
Here’s why: The medical folks only have power when they have downed pilots. Their entire raison d’etre is based on whether or not beds are full of bodies and pilots who desperately need their care.
A product that heals, steals their territory.
Things crashed to a halt. No more tests. An internecine war ensued between the brass that oversees the pilots, and the brass that overseas the medical facility. The pilots themselves had little say. A product that has been proven to put them back in the air was being held up because of territorial imperative. Not because it didn’t work.
But because it did. I can attest to that. Spectacularly.
It’s not an issue of performance. It’s politics.
Here’s the object lesson: When you are rolling out a new product, you and I are going to come up with all the “whys” that such a product is going to do and be all the right things for our market. We identify key influencers, we clarify the market.
All too often we don’t ask the key question:
Who stands to lose if this is successful?
If you and I don’t conduct the due diligence for where key influencers suffer at the hands of what we’re selling, we set ourselves up to be blown out of the water by a stealth bomb. Just because what we have does the right thing, that doesn’t mean someone- or an entire department of thousands of people- doesn’t lose.
Someone- or some department- almost always loses.
As a military veteran, I have seen such territorial wars break out over therapies and products that would put a great many of us back on our feet. However, those caregivers who have developed a fiefdom comprised of desperately needy people have no incentive whatsoever in helping those move forward. They lose their purpose. They’d have to redirect and give up being a guru. Most won’t. If they see a threat to their livelihood, rather than leap on board because it’s the right thing to do for those who are most in need, they will find every single way to impede progress.
If you can cure cancer, for example (and we can), think of how many jobs will be lost when people no longer need research, pills, procedures, radiation therapies, pharmaceuticals. If you can create a car that really can run on almost nothing think of all the forces against you ranging from the major manufacturers, the steel industry, the oil and gas folks…you get my drift.
Just imagine how many life-saving, world-saving inventions have been stymied because of who stands to lose.
Politics. Which is why the alternative energy industry, which just a few years ago was offering some of the hottest and best-paying jobs in the country, has been cutting jobs. Losing momentum.
A few folks stood to lose (coal industry, but then, forgive me, but who was managing those companies when they sent folk into the mines to get black lung at 30 when the company knew damned good and well the dangers and didn’t report them?) Those few are nowhere near the number of folks who were getting superb jobs in the burgeoning alternative energy economy.
There are always losers. Your challenge is to find out how to either manage that loss or include them in the win. If you don’t you’ll be blindsided.
Got product? Got a great idea? Know thine enemy. In this case, it’s not just the competition, whose pricing may be less, whose branding may be better known. This enemy is a snake in the grass, who is likely to not speak up at your presentations, but who is quietly working behind the lines to ensure that you cannot make headway.
A good sales and marketing strategy takes into account all your influencers, including who has a great deal to lose. You have to come up with why they should support you. You can’t just go to the brass and have that brass holler at your detractors. That’s what happened with this product.
As a result, nothing has happened since, except that some very hopeful pilots are left in the lurch.
You can be too, if you don’t consider who wins when you bring your product to market, your skills to bear, or offer a solution to a business problem that actually benefits someone else.
Forewarned is forearmed.
Think of it this way: if you can argue against your product or services as effectively as you can for them, you can handle the opposition. Because you’ll have had time to prepare for the objections, arguments and fears. Besides, you will demonstrate that you’re sensitive to their concerns, are interested in their welfare, and considered their needs.
That kind of preparation might also allow to make some key adaptations which would better ensure your success.
That goes a long way towards creating an open mind- not guaranteed, not at all- but you won’t be caught like a deer in the headlights.
And you might just get them on board.