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It's not unusual for even the most savvy product managers among us to fall victim to a product failure. Even with the support of research, testing and a hefty marketing budget, for any number of reasons your pet project sometimes just doesn't make it in the real world. We learn to take the failures in stride. It's part of the game. With lessons learned and egos in check, we usually make up for it many times over with our next market hit.

What we talk about less often are those products that do well in the market, building a loyal following over many years, only to end up on the chopping block. The product, which we'll refer to as Product X, is a definite hit with your customers. But changes in the market and a highly aggressive growth plan make carrying the product a losing proposition.

What to do about Product X loyalists? How will you minimize the fall out of a market exit? How do you quantify the number of Product X buyers who buy your other products only because they come to you for Product X? This issue's dilemma asks: When you've made a practical decision to cut your losses on a highly popular but unprofitable product line, how do you make a gracious market exit?

Already onto your next market hit? Let us know what keeps you up at night. What dilemma do you take with you when you leave the office? Your peers would love to help. Write to us and ask our SWOT Team about your dilemma. Tap into the collective strength, wisdom and experience of this group. It works, and you could win a free copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

Revisit our previous dilemma—read below for your peers' best advice on backing up your marketing plan.

Unite and make a difference!

This Issue's Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Weakness

 We need to cut our losses and make a gracious exit.

After much consideration, research and number crunching, we've decided to cut one of our most popular, but least profitable products. We have a loyal and established client base and are concerned about how to handle the transition without alienating them. SWOT Team wisdom would be helpful here. What have your experiences been? What is the best way to not only keep customers but to deepen the relationship, even after their favorite product is removed from the mix?

—Anonymous, Product Manager

Previous Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Weakness

How do I back up my plan and cover my back?

My boss is the CEO, who never gives feedback. Even though my marketing decisions are based on solid research, it still feels like I'm executing on a wing and a prayer and don't really know what my boss considers a successful marketing campaign. What steps and checklists can I use to back up my planning decisions and cover my back?

—Anonymous, VP of Marketing

Summary of Advice Received

Working in an environment with maximum freedom sounds appealing to many—but as we learn from this dilemma, freedom has a downside.

Your marketing campaign affects you, your customers, your company and your company's bottom line. At this investment level, entering into it without clear support and buy-in from the rest of your team, and most importantly your boss, may be a recipe for disaster.

SWOT Team members offer their best advice for getting the CEO on side with your plan. Using this approach will give you peace of mind and get the attention of your boss. Here's what your peers had to say:

1. Develop an understanding of the CEO's view.

2. Get other managers' support.

3. Create a framework to gauge your success.

4. Document your plan and your process.

1. Develop an understanding of the CEO's view

Having a solid understanding of how your boss operates is not only important in this situation but also vital to maintaining a strong relationship. This is a great time to interview your boss. What is his or her leadership profile? When you tailor your planning, communications and reporting to your boss's preferred style, you are more likely to get the time and attention you need when you need it.

Jan Polak, who is responsible for Marketing at Hull & Associates, Inc., offers this advice for gaining input from your boss on the view of the market:

The obvious solution is to arm yourself with the research you conducted when presenting your decisions to your boss. But, research alone can be a double-edged sword. Only so much of our future marketing success can be determined based on research.

Make sure you are thinking of trends and where the market is going as well. If you can, get to know your CEO and his or her thoughts on trends in the industry—just make sure your CEO's knowledge is correct! We all want to please our bosses, but we also want to do the right type of marketing for our company. In my opinion, the latter is more important and should take care of the first.

2. Get other managers' support

Your marketing decisions and campaign results will also affect other members of the team. Consult with your colleagues. Share your plan with them. Gain their support for the campaign and brainstorm a plan B in case you do not meet your projections.

Mary Schmidt, Principal of Mary Schmidt Associates, a self-titled corporate America refugee, gives these suggestions for gaining the support of your colleagues.

A lot will depend on the details of your situation, (i.e., What kind of marketing campaign are you running—advertising, direct mail, telemarketing? How long have you been in your current position? What's your CEO's personality?). You may be one of the lucky few to have a CEO who trusts you implicitly and is happy to leave you to your own devices (unaware that you'd like and require feedback). My guess, however, is that the reason you don't get feedback is that your CEO doesn't have a framework in which to provide it (or just hasn't looked up yet to notice the campaign).

  1. Did you get input and buy-in from the other CEO direct reports, prior to the plan implementation (particularly the VP of Sales)? Did you document this in some form of activity or status report to the CEO? Yes, this is “CYA,” [cover your… anatomy] but necessary even in the best of companies. Communications is key to any successful career or business.
  2. Do you have a scheduled quarterly (weekly or monthly) “state of the union” review with the CEO and/or his direct reports? This CYA step is particularly important when you've got the classic Sales versus Marketing scenario. Marketing can get blamed for “not working” when in fact it was the sales force's lack of follow-through that was at fault.

If you really fear that you have to “cover your back”—look for another job. Life is too short to spend it in petty political fights.

3. Create a framework to gauge your success

An important factor in any marketing effort is to define and align with a framework for success. Communicating your end goal, your plan for achieving it and the basis of your projections are important. When the goal is large and potentially long-term, it may also be necessary to communicate key milestones. Don't set yourself up for perceived failure by not being clear about all of the activities and results that define success.

Fern Leaf, Principal of LM Services, suggests that defining benchmarks will help you and your boss to know when you've been successful:

It's always possible that your boss doesn't know what he or she thinks is a successful marketing campaign either. Help out by developing clear benchmarks and metrics for each campaign. Exactly how many leads are generated by current ads? What percentage of leads are closed by the sales team?

Your plan should clearly state current numbers as well as the percentage range of increase you expect to achieve with your new campaign. As always, by testing first, you are better able to predict results. Once you attach metrics to your projects, you make it clear whether or not your marketing is successful. It is no longer a matter of opinion.

4. Document your plan and your process

Having a plan isn't synonymous with having a plan documented. If you've been unsuccessful at gaining your bosses attention throughout the process, having clear documentation is vital. Give it the “emergency absence litmus test.” Imagine it's two weeks before your campaign is set to launch and you are called out of town on a family emergency. Your colleagues should be able to execute the functions of your plan with a clear understanding of what to do, why it's being done that way and what to expect once it's launched.

Mary Schmidt offers this reminder for sticking to good business practices by documenting and communicating your plan:

Have you established and documented your own metrics and success measurements?

  1. Any communication you initiate with the CEO should be crisp, clear and to the point. Focus on the business results. If there are issues, make sure you have a proposed solution.

  2. Be careful when justifying your plan by saying you based it on solid research. Did you do the research directly with existing customers or prospects, or through a third party? One can find research to support anything, particularly if it's provided by a vendor of marketing campaign support and services. All things should be documented and communicated—that's just good business practice.

The Corporate Affairs Manager of NutriSmart Australia Pty Ltd, Helen Pressdee, shares her communications backup plan for operating without the boss's feedback:

It sounds boring and tedious, but you do need to document everything. I am in a similar position with my boss, who rarely gives feedback, and it sometimes feels like I'm stumbling around in the dark. I implemented two methods of communicating my activities and my decisions to my boss.

The first is a weekly report that outlines what I have undertaken in the past week and what I have achieved. Each activity has an objective next to it and my actions seek to achieve that objective. The second is a campaign plan and campaign report. Before undertaking a campaign, I prepare a document according to the following outline: purpose, background, objective, work plan, costs and benefit. This is only a one-page document.

Following a campaign, I prepare a report that's usually two pages long that details what was achieved through the campaign according to the objective. By implementing these two procedures, I ensure I have covered my back and that my boss knows what I am doing. When it's clearly documented they have the opportunity to provide feedback if they don't agree.

You've got us well covered on this one, SWOT Team—thanks again!

We did our best to provide a thorough overview of your responses to this timely topic. All of the advice we received was insightful. Thanks for your participation. We appreciate it!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.

Yvonne is a “customer engagement coach” and President of EVE Consulting, helping companies achieve sustainable market leadership through the power of customer engagement.