When it pays to be ignorant

   A great experiment has begun. After 12 years of owning and operating my own business, I decided it was time to hire a marketing person.
   For years I had toyed with the idea, but the budget was not accommodating. In essence, I couldn’t afford to hire someone who would theoretically increase sales.
   So when sales increased on their own, with no help from a marketing person, then it was time to hire one. Illogical, but a small business truth.
   The decision made, it was now time to find the right person to market our product.
   Ideally, I was looking for a polished young man or woman with at least a couple of years of experience under their belt in the tour and travel business.
   And I’m sure those people exist. But before I could find them, I hired an old friend, Clyde, who recently lost his elementary school teaching position.
   Marketing, schmarketing. We’re taking sales here. Clyde is bright, aggressive, personable and energetic. And he knows just as much about marketing as I do.
   Namely, nothing.
   What’s to know? You got a product, you sell it. Life should be so easy.
   I’m writing this following Clyde’s first day on the job. It went swell. Clyde came in early and we immediately discussed marketing.
   "So where should I start?" he asked.
   "I don’t know," I replied. "You’re the marketing director. Sell us."
   Luckily, we had a meeting set up with a prominent tour and travel company later in the morning. I told Clyde to organize his desk until then. Maybe this company would have some ideas.
   When they arrived, we were ready for them. "I have just hired Clyde as our marketing director," I said, proudly. "And I think it’s important you realize neither one of us know what we’re doing."
   The two representatives of the tour and travel company, who came in very prim, proper and businesslike, immediately loosened up. After a few more jokes about Clyde’s ineptness, they were interrupting each other with suggestions as to how they could help.
   After we had siphoned every bit of information we possible could from the two representatives, we thanked them and sent them on their way. The meeting over, Clyde and I sat back and discussed our marketing plan.
   "I think it’s very clear," I said, leaning back in my chair. "Our marketing plan is for you to act as ignorant as possible and hope more experienced people will lead you by the hand."
   As noted, Clyde is no dummy. He can spot an advantage a mile away. "I can do that," he said. "No problem."
   "Good," I replied. "I knew I could count on you."
   We discussed what we had learned at the meeting and Clyde’s next step. He had set up a subsequent meeting with one of the representatives, who had promised to shower more ideas and information on him.
   "Remember," I repeated, "don’t make the mistake of pretending you know more than you do."
   "That shouldn’t be a problem," replied Clyde.
   After Clyde left, I thought about our dynamic new marketing plan. It sounds pathetic and manipulative, and I suppose it is.
   But it’s also small business in all its tiny glory. Given the choice, it would be much simpler to hire a $60,000 per year marketing wizard who has all the contacts and all the tricks at his or her fingertips.
   That’s what big business would do. Obviously, it would be difficult to sell the Board of Directors at IBM on an initial marketing plan that relied on ignorance as its key element.
   In small business, it’s always essential to remember that experience is not always affordable. Clyde is a risk, but his lack of marketing experience makes him a relatively inexpensive risk.
   And my guess is he’ll come through. A few months from now, after he’s sorted through the wealth of information received from knowledgeable people in our target market, he’ll present a real marketing plan.
   Of course, he’ll also demand a raise, realizing he’s no longer the inexperienced, uninformed rookie that everyone wanted to coddle.
   He’ll probably get one, too. If he does, it means the risk paid off for both of us.



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