It was one of those breakthrough comments that changed the way we worked.
We were in the throes of a brainstorm, trying to conjure up new ways of recruiting radio sales executives.
A shortage of talent meant the costs were going up, even for mediocre performers, and we were having doubts whether we wanted to continue to poach people from our competitors. Increasingly, we were finding that hiring from competitors had its own problems – these hired guns often failed to perform after making the switch.
Someone said: “The well has run dry.”
We fell silent as we pondered that image.
Then a second voice suggested: “Maybe we need to find a new well . . .”
That comment sent us on an entirely new line of thinking.
Where could we find a new well, full of people with the right attributes to become great radio salespeople?
At first, we looked at the obvious – print publishing and other forms of media. But we agreed we had worked those wells in the past with mixed results.
We looked again at what radio was about, and what a good salesperson had to deal with.
Our product was extremely perishable – among the most perishable of all. Once this hour’s radio had been broadcast, its available advertising slots could never be sold again.
Prices were dynamic, changing by the hour and effected by so many factors – demand, availability, competitive forces and solutions offered by alternative methods of advertising.
Our customers didn’t really want to buy radio – they wanted to sell their products and services. They simply wanted a solution to their problem.
And what we sold was intangible. You couldn’t pull a sample of ‘it’ from your bag.
Having written up these points on a whiteboard, we went through other industries, trying to find a match. Eventually we found one.
To our initial surprise, we realised the air freight industry had much in common with radio.
If a flight left half full, its inventory was gone forever. Just like radio.
Customers didn’t really care which aircraft made the delivery, they just wanted results. Just like with radio.
Pricing for air freight was cut-throat, with alternatives like road and rail transport keeping pressure on rate cards. And it was an extremely competitive industry – just like radio.
We created our plan to drill the new well.
A couple of us paid a visit to the chief executive of the largest air freight company. We told him of our plan to recruit outstanding people from his industry.
He was confused until we explained we didn’t want to recruit from his company – instead we were inviting his company to tell us who were the best performers employed by his competitors.
Given this win-win approach, we soon had a list of prospects. Within a few weeks, we had recruited a new sales manager and three salespeople, all of whom successfully made the transition to radio.
Since that brainstorm, I’ve often faced business challenges created by a shortage – whether it’s a shortage of product, skills or people.
The answer has often come through remembering the image of a well that had almost run dry . . . and the power of working out how to find a new well!
PHOTO – Echiner1