Book Excerpt: Pick the problem you want to solve

red question markThe following is an excerpt from 42 Rules of Marketing by Laura Lowell.

The problem most companies have is that they have more ideas than they have resources (money or people) to implement them. You can’t solve everything all at once, so you have to pick the problem you want to solve today. There will always be problems to solve. The important thing is to know what the problems are. Then you can prioritize which to tackle first and which to put off until next quarter (or the following quarter, or the next year…).

Prioritizing activities is difficult for most marketers because it means that something won’t get done. By your very nature, you want to do everything you can to make your company or your product successful. The hard, cold fact is there usually isn’t enough time, money or people to do everything you want to do—right now.

To get beyond this sometimes emotional reaction, ask yourself or your organization a very simple question; “If you can only do one thing—what would it be?”

The answer is your priority. It sets the context for evaluating other options. Which option helps you reach the objective…

  • Faster?
  • For less money?
  • With better results?

Prioritization doesn’t have to be complicated and doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Try following these simple steps next time you’re faced with a difficult prioritization challenge.

  • Brainstorm a list of everything you’d like to accomplish in order to achieve your objectives.
  • Outline the potential impact of each activity on the business objective.
  • Estimate the cost of each activity (time, money and resources).
  • Evaluate the likelihood of success.
  • Identify the activities that provide the biggest return on investment (ROI).
  • Prioritize the activities according to their ROI.

Armed with this information, you are better prepared for the inevitable budget discussions. Depending on the available budget, there is a point at which you will probably run out of money. By evaluating the ROI for each activity, you can determine how far your budget will actually take you. At this point, draw a line. The activities that have been prioritized above the line get done, and things below the line get done later. These are the problems you will solve another day.

Prioritization can get tricky, and sometimes political. This is especially true when the review and approval process involves multiple businesses, decision-makers and executives. People have opinions. Sometimes you agree with them and sometimes you don’t. And sometimes you don’t get to vote. The key to effectively navigate these waters is to be clear in your approach:

  • These are the objectives.
  • This is how these strategies support the objective.
  • This is how much money we have to spend.
  • This is the return on investment for each strategy.

Having laid out an articulate, well thought out assessment of the options, you have done everything in your power to help the organization pick the problem they want to solve. Rest assured—there will always be more problems to solve. Can you think back to a situation where prioritization would have helped you more effectively achieve your objective? I know I can.