If you’ve ever recorded your voice or been part of a radio show [did this myself for the first time recently], you know that you don’t get the same feedback that 2-way conversation gives you. This also happens when doing new things in your marketplace: launching that product you designed, selling with a never-before-used channel, etc.

Let me share what Christopher S. Penn and John Wall from the Marketing over Coffee podcast have said on starting new initiatives. They point out how there are zero case studies on companies that copied somebody else’s idea. Only a company undertook a new initiative did someone write a case study about it. If you wait for a case study or empirical proof that supports what you want to do, you’ll only be copying this company. By the time you do this, the company you’re copying has not only benefited from the first campaign, it’s forging ahead with it’s next new campaign. If you’re only following someone else’s lead, you will never manage to differentiate yourself in the market.

Olympic Torchbearers

Seth Godin’s June 2000 article in “Fast Company” talks about the need for people to act as torch bearers in their everyday lives, “there aren’t nearly enough torchbearers around” he laments. He compares leaders to the runners who carried the Olympic flame from Athens, Greece to the site of the Olympic games. “It’s one runner, one flame. If the torchbearer falls, it’s a big deal. If she doesn’t make it to the next runner she lets down everyone ahead of her in line, as well as all of the runners who carried the torch before her.”

Is this thing on?Which part of the organization is supposed to step forward and take a stab at reaching future customers? I believe it’s marketing. Is marketing a leading function in your company? Who else is going to find out what’s inside the mind of the customer and draw up the map plotting the course that will reach the customer? If you are involved with marketing, you should know your company is depending on you for this.

Clearly, this is uncharted territory and metrics can’t help much here but the good news is that when you reach out, customers will respond warmly. They have likely been waiting for someone like you to come along; since they never heard from any of the companies that “played it safe.” You may not be comfortable going in a direction where no one has been, but if you do, you will be acting as a Torch Bearer, in every sense of the word.

Roger Bannister

Until 1954, experts, athletes and the general public felt that the absolute fastest a human could run a mile was 4 minutes. No one thought that a sub-4-minute mile was physically possible. That all changed when Roger Bannister broke the record in May 1954. Before he came along, it’s as if every runner ran slower than a 4-minute mile because they considered running over 4 minutes as good enough to win races. Roger Bannister wasn’t running against other runners as much as he was running against himself.

Another blogger, George Ambler, has explained the aftermath of that 1954 record this way. “Bannister had shown that breaking four minute mile was possible. Often the barriers we perceived are only barriers in our own minds. Previous runners had been held back by their beliefs and mindsets.” When the barrier was broken other runners saw that it was possible. By the end of 1955, 16 runners also broke the barrier and now hundreds of people have run a mile in under 4 minutes.

On your Mark, Get Set, Go

It’s unnerving when you don’t know how well your message comes across on the listener’s side, but you must still start the conversation. I’m here to tell you to get comfortable with that feeling, it’s a sign that you are on the right track. To bring this back to business development, you sometimes have to forge ahead into uncharted territory without data that supports you. You won’t always have a business case proving that the sales & marketing you’re doing will work. So what! It’s not an exact science. The best advice on this comes from a none other than a scientist, Albert Einstein, who said “Not everything that counts can be counted.”

image credit: Flickr’s Phoenix Dark-Knight