Let's start off by acknowledging that not giving people exactly what they ask for sounds like a terrible idea. Just hear me out.Back in the late 1990's, I was working with a client that sold stuffed animals wholesale to large retailers. He wanted me to create a catalog that he could mail to his customers, and he came to me with an entire marketing plan in his head. He told me he'd "spent months planning it all out." Perfect, I thought, I can execute an excellent marketing plan!
We got together, and he laid out his vision. The more he talked, the more I began to feel concerned. He had an adorable product, great pricing, and three years of strong sales. The problem was, he had a bunch of really mediocre ideas for next steps. I sat still, nodded with interest, and took notes. I asked questions that I hoped would open up a more creative dialogue…no dice. I tossed a few softballs in his direction to test the waters for some different ideas; they struck out at first base. Mike knew what he wanted. I tip-toed around the edges of his idea pool but kept my feet mostly dry. Here's what happened next. I executed all of his ideas, exactly as he requested. My work very was good. We were both disappointed with the results.
The project was not a complete failure, but it could have been so much better. Over the years, I've thought about this missed opportunity that Mike and I shared. He was a great businessman. I was a great marketing person. Together we should have been more successful. Here's the thing, I gave Mike exactly what he asked for, but that was NOT my job. I let Mike down because, at the time, I didn't have the confidence to help him see beyond his ideas. I realized much later that, as his trusted marketing person, my job was not to simply execute his vision. In fact, my job was to innovate on his behalf, even if it was going to be hard!
When I say, "stop giving people exactly what they want" what I mean is trust what you know. Listen carefully to what your clients tell you they want. When it's all said and done, deliver what they need. I will take this a step further and suggest that this is probably true of every relationship in our lives. We need to listen deeply. Hear both what is said, and what is left to interpretation. In the end, we need to trust our gut and act accordingly. One caveat, though, if you girl asks for that fabulous pair of earrings that she spotted in the DeBeer’s window, just buy them. Trust me; she knows what she wants.
Kimberly McHale is as a writer, a singer and a speaker. She is also the founder and lead strategist at The Bristol Branding Group
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