Don’t Build It Unless You Can Maintain It

I trimmed the wisteria covering the pergola over our patio for about an hour the other day.  I have to do this about every two weeks during the summer or the wisteria grows wild and starts invading the roof on the back of the house. I swear that if you stare at the plant long enough, you can actually see if grow.

We planted the scrawny little three-foot plant in the fall 10 years ago, shortly after the patio and pergola were completed.  We wanted something to shade the patio from the strong afternoon sun on the west-facing patio.  It was a harsh winter and we doubted the plant survived.  Boy, were we wrong!  It survived and then some, growing about eight feet or so every year.  It was great because we had shade, but 10 years later the maintenance it requires is a nuisance and the heavy vines are starting to strain some of the pergola joists.

As I was trimming the wisteria and grumbling to myself, I thought of a conversation I had early last week with a colleague from my Ernst & Young days.  Scott is a great business developer and has just started his own company as an outsourced business development function for professional and business services firms.  It is a tremendous concept and one Scott will excel at because of his skills and his network of contacts.

Scott and I were talking about customer (or client) relationship management (CRM) systems and how companies often get so enamored with everything the software can do that they lose sight of what they really need.  They forget that the more data they collect the more they will have to maintain.  So after spending a lot of time and money to set up the initial CRM system, they find that they will have to dedicate resources on an ongoing basis if they are going to capitalize on the initial investment.  One of the important resources needed is the time and effort of salespeople who are closest to the customer and can pass on new information they learn during sales calls.  If the sales person doesn’t get value out of the system, they are unlikely to be cooperative in contributing to it.

This is not to pick on CRM.  Part of the problem is that companies, and often their marketers, treat many initiatives as projects, instead of the processes that are needed to make the initiative successful.  This problem has only become worse in the last decade or so as companies have moved from one marketing initiative to the next hoping they hit the magic formula to grow the top and bottom lines.  And often we don’t think of what is needed to do something on an ongoing basis.

When I was at a consulting company, one of the consultants wanted to create a newsletter specifically for companies in the auto industry.  We didn’t have the resources to do this on a quarterly basis.  The consultant explained that he came from a long line of newspapermen and he knew what it takes to put out a publication (this is before electronic media made it easy to deliver a newsletter or articles).  Since I could not dissuade him or his manager, I recommended that he do a “soft launch” and not promise a quarterly delivery.  That recommendation went unheeded as well.  The newsletter lasted two issues before the project was abandoned because no one had time for it.

So before you take on the next marketing initiative, ask these questions:

  • Is this a project that will have a discreet end or a process that will need regular maintenance?
  • If the initiative is an ongoing process, what resources will be required?
  • Is the company committed to funding those resources and for how long?
  • Are the expected results worth the required expense over the life of the initiative?

Having clarity around these questions will go a long way in deciding if the initiative is worth pursuing.


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