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There is always more than one solution

The other week I attended an MBA class run by a marketing professor. He is a man of some distinction and an excellent communicator on the subject. His knowledge of marketing is undoubtedly great. He introduced a scenario for consideration by the class. It was an interesting case and the class rose to the challenge. There were many questions one of which was “is there a right or wrong answer?”. The marketing professor, in the way that he presented all his views replied assuredly – “there is only one right answer and I am looking for you to provide it”.

I was shocked. I have used frameworks and advised companies for more than 40 years and know there is never just one right answer. I accept that many clients wish there was a single answer; it would make life so much easier. However, most problems in life can be dealt with in a variety of ways. It is why we have so many frameworks and why each framework is in itself a spectrum where there is no simple right or wrong.

In the MBA case study I was listening to, everything was determined by a segmentation of the market. Segmentation is a critically important framework. How we recognise different groups of customers and their needs is vital to every business. We also know there are many approaches to segmentation. Some customers can be classified by simple binary criteria such as their gender or their age. But when it comes to classifying customers according to their needs it becomes more complicated. People of different ages and genders have varying needs. An individual’s needs may vary depending on circumstances which means it is hard to place them in a convenient segment. There is likely to be a spectrum of answers whereby some have a greater chance of success than others. Even solutions that may not pass muster with a business school professor can work if they have the commitment of the people who proposed them.

Take for example the Net Promoter Score. It was made famous by an article in the Harvard Business Review in 2003 by Frederick Reichheld. The article was entitled "The One Number You Need To Grow". It is a brilliant title because it appealed to CEOs all over the world who want a simple measure by which they can determine the success of their companies. The Net Promoter Score is a good measure for determining customer loyalty but it is not the only one. Indeed, the Net Promoter Score is only a variation of the simple score which measures customer satisfaction on a scale from 1 to 10. The NPS and simple customer satisfaction scores are valuable but they don't give an insight into how to develop and grow a business. Someone might give a very high NPS or satisfaction score because a supplier meets all their needs but it doesn't mean to say that the customer will continue to do business with the supplier in the future. We only understand loyalty with a deeper dive and many more questions.

It is easy for us to believe that the world is made up of good and evil. Our children look for answers that are black or white. As we grow older we recognise that situations are more complex and there is no simple or single answer to many questions. In business it is important that we see things as a continuum and can assess what is important on a scale that ranges from good to bad. The truth nearly always lies somewhere on this line and frameworks help us find it.

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