I’m going to share with you one of the biggest secrets to success! Actually, it’s one of the few things I learnt at school that’s been of significant value in a business. You can apply this principle in many areas, but I’ll discuss it here in terms of marketing.

I’m forever having people ask me “What do you think of this idea?”. For example, “I’m planning to send a mailshot to 5000 names on a mailing list – what do you think?”. My rather sarcastic answer is usually “This is by far the best idea you’ve told me in the past five minutes”. The point is – having ideas is easy. Having good ideas is harder. But all I’m interested in is the BEST ideas. How on earth can you know if something is the best idea if you only look at one idea?

If you just take away one thing from reading this, here it is: Always create a minimum of three alternatives, compare the pros and cons, and choose the best one. I can guarantee that whatever you do will be much more successful when you pick the best of three.

Often in a business, there is more than one product or service available for sale. As you start planning some marketing, start by determining which product or service you aim to focus on selling. Ideally, this is going to be one that represents the best all-around opportunity for the business, for example – good profit margin, low hassle, easy to sell, short sales cycle, available now. Often people dive in, randomly pick a product or service, and start working on marketing it. It could be that the marketing is successful and sales are made, but how much more profit could have been made by working on selling the item that’s twice as profitable? Think strategically. Consider different products and services and think about the pros and cons of focusing on increasing the sales of each one. Not just in the short term, but in the long-term. Which one, if sold in bigger volumes this month, is going to lead to even greater sales if it or of something else later? If you focus on selling more razors, will it automatically lead to selling more razor blades for the coming year? If you sell more printers this month, will it lead to sales of more ink and paper in the coming year? If you offer free mobile phones this month, will it lead to increased airtime sales in the coming year? But again, choose three good alternatives and pick the best of three, not just the first one that springs to mind. At school and college, I studied design technology – basically how to identify a problem and design the best solution to it. The method I was taught was as follows:

  1. Think of one way to solve the problem and work through a design idea for how that solution would work.
  2. Set aside the first idea and start all over again! This second solution must use a completely different approach to the first.
  3. Set aside the second idea and start all over again. This time, the solution can be completely new again or can include good aspects of the first and second combined with new thinking.

The third solution was always much better than the first. But you know, once I’d worked on that first one, I was convinced it was a great idea and didn’t want to set it aside and start again! The discipline to create and review three alternatives is critical. Only when you look from different angles do you see the flaws in the first. Once you’ve decided which product or service to focus on marketing, next create three alternatives for how you’re going to market it. Look at the pros and cons of each one, ultimately calculating the ROI (Return On Investment) for each one. Only then should you go with the method that is calculated to be the best one. So the next time someone comes to you with an idea and asks “What do you think, is this a good idea?”. Ask the killer question – “What are the alternatives and what makes this the best one?”.