June 24, 2012

Dear Catalog CEOs: But What About ... ?

Dear Catalog CEOs:

Have you ever wanted to try something different?  Maybe you wanted to eliminate a catalog altogether ... or shrink a catalog from 96 pages down to 64 pages ... or mail two 48 page catalogs with a targeted assortment instead of a 140 page catalog with a general merchandise assortment.

You make your case, a reasoned case, no less.

And then, somebody, an EVP, a Director, a Manager, decide to challenge you ... issuing the statement that stalls everything.

  • "But what about ..."
"But what about the customers who need a generalized merchandising assortment, you're willing to abandon them?"

"But what about the sales you lose in your strategy?"

"But what about the employees who are responsible for the product you're not going to feature in a smaller catalog, what happens to their bonus levels when you fail to advertise their products?"

"But what about our paper commitment, we've already bought paper?"

The phrase "but what about" is a killer.  It is a statement that protects the past.  It is a statement designed to pit an unknown (a new strategy) against a known (the existing strategy).  And because you can never know how the unknown will perform, your staff put you at a severe disadvantage.

You can combat statements like "but what about".

Remind your staff that every new strategy has an unknown probability of success.  In fact, put together a list of new strategies your or your team employed, strategies that worked.  If you're dealing with merchants, remind them that they constantly introduce new products that may or may not work.  If you're dealing with your marketing team, remind them that they are constantly trying new channels that may or may not work (think of social media as an example of a channel that, for the most part, doesn't work yet is fully embraced by your marketing team).  If you're dealing with your inventory team, remind them that they make predictions about what will sell across a myriad of new tactics/products, remind them that they cannot selectively pick and choose the times they point out risk.

In the next five years, the customer file is going to age.  As the file ages, it will become even more necessary to attempt new strategies.  As you outline new strategies, it will become even more likely that your team challenges you with "but what about" statements.

Do your homework.  Document the times your strategies succeeded and failed.  Demonstrate to your team that you have a reasonable batting average.  

And if you don't have a reasonable batting average, well, that, too, is interesting.