What to do when your String of Pearls BizDev becomes Scrap Collecting?

In the post on Strings of Pearls and Sausage Machines I wrote about the development from a “one by one”, ad hoc, approach to getting new deals (individually or corporately) to a process-driven, works-every-day approach.

But what happens when it goes the other way?  What happens when the gaps between pearls get bigger and the pearls get smaller?  What happens when you can’t find any pearls but can only get a piece of cheap glass?  What happens when you stop being a pearl diver and just become a scrap collector?

source Newark&Sherwood District Council

source Newark&Sherwood District Council

Well the first amazing thing (as I have found sourcing the above) is that apparently you are forbidden to be a scrap collector unless your register with the local council!  Goodness me no wonder government spending is ever-rising and economic growth ever harder to come by.

So lets stick to metaphorical scrap collectors (a phrase I picked up from some Seth Godin talk long ago).  Non-metaphorically you used to have a steady flow of nice juicy deals of just the type you wanted.  Now you don’t.  What do you do?

Well I guess the first thing you do is “not notice it”, “look on the bright side” etc etc.  And who knows the dip in quality and quantity might just be a blip and an upwards trend resumes.  So I guess Plan A is “do not panic”.

Plan B, when it becomes too obvious to deny, is to examine whether you are doing anything different or whether you need to sharpen up your act – maybe the competition has increased, maybe the market has dipped.  Amend the value-proposition, sharpen up the marketing, shine up your sales.

Plan C is when you are forced into a real root and branch attack.  You have to dip your head in a very cold bucket of water – ask your best, very honest friends and review.  To take another Godinism that has stuck with me – always supply something in demand.  In the 21stC of “excess change”, sticking to the familiar can be fatal.  Maybe you need a new game, a new market, a new country, a new life?  You can only sell what the market will buy.  This situation is the toughest to call – in the lingo of modern digital business it’s called “persist or pivot?”.  In more 19thC saloon bar poker language we might call it “hold or fold?”.

These examples deal with the situation where you keep trying to (roughly) sell what you used to sell well but which just isn’t selling any more.  What about the opposite example where you sell the right thing but sell it too early?

I heard a good deconstruction recently of this whole idea of being “right but early” in business.  You know as in “we raised a whole bunch of cash, we were right, but do you know what we were early and the business folded”.  I always used to think I was “right but early” … I was great at fund management when you were paid in pieces of broken glass not offshore islands.  I was pushing bankwide risk before it existed. And many more.  And I consoled myself with being “right but early” – and I was.

So what’s the deconstruction of this?  Well simply that “being right” is not the scoreboard. The economic scoreboard is $$ in the bank account.  Microsoft was “right but early” when it produced the first tablet computers in the 1990s – only it wasn’t right – it failed to create the market (in the way that Jobs did much later).  I was right in getting great fund management results but too early to own my own island.  The best footballers in the 70s were great but they were so “early” they had to run pubs after they retired due to lack of money.

In a way we are easily fooled into thinking that business success is kind of meritocratic.  It isn’t – there is a hell of a lot of “being in the right place at the right time” about it.  Equally we are always standing on our surfboards – and despite what the winds and tides are doing to us, despite what happened to us surfing last year, or to our buddy this year who didn’t “deserve” the success, despite all this we still have to balance and do our best in the only time that exists to do anything (aka “now).

So what about you? Can you relate to situations where a string of pearls approach has degenerated into scrap collecting? What did you (or others) do to turn the situation around?  What do you need to do today to turn things around if you find yourself in this situation now?

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