It’s the process not the product

February 3, 2012

As a consultant I am constantly trying to explain to people the value of business planning. I come up with different ways to articulate it. I devise all kinds of marketing materials and websites trying to explain it.

But even if I am successful and someone gets the concept, they still don’t “get it.” They still think of it as unnecessary fluff.

When you’re a child you just want the end result. Children just think, “I want to be a CEO.” When you explain the additional six to eight years of school it takes, they see that time as an obstacle like a stick they have to jump over to win a race or a mom they have to whine to in order to avoid a bath.

In their minds the process of going to school that long is not even an annoyance, but merely a necessary blip on their way to being chief executive officer of a blue chip company.

As you get older you learn that even with a degree or certificate or whatever it is that says you are something special, people still want experience. They want to know you have gone through some processes, some growth, some pain and failure so you know what to do next time. The experience is the value. The degree gets you a $50,000 or $100,000 salary, but the experience is what gets you the $500,000 or $1,000,000 salary.

Every adult understands this concept. So why is it that some entrepreneurs and managers constantly want to skip the value of the process? When they are contemplating starting a new company, buying an existing one or marketing a new product, they sometimes want to skip the process and just get to starting and buying and running their new toy.

Is it because maybe they think they are too smart to have to do it? Is it maybe they feel they have paid their dues with the schooling and experience they have already endured? Is it because they are lazy? Is it because it’s just no fun to learn when you can just get to the end product?

I guess maybe that’s part of the fun of being an entrepreneur – doing what you want. Skipping the things you don’t like or concentrating most of your time on the things that energize you.

But if you look at successful large companies that have made it for years, reinventing themselves when necessary and having long-term profitable success, they are able to do that because they don’t skip the process.

The CEO of Honda doesn’t pick the shape and color of his personal dream car. He engages the company in the process of determining what the customer wants and what works best. They then go through the process of engineering to determine how to build the car to meet those needs and be safe.

Next, they go through the process of determining the best way to effectively market the new car using all the information they learned during the first two steps.

This process allows them to put out a car that has the best chance of selling and not having any safety issues. And they are pretty darn good at it based on the historical success of Honda and their models.

Now just imagine what kind of company they would be if the CEO just churned out whatever suited his fancy over the years. And imagine if he skipped the process of proper engineering, what kind of issues those cars might have and money that would be wasted by lawsuits and recalls.

It’s a silly concept right? But entrepreneurs and managers skip the process every day.

When it comes to entrepreneurs and managers blowing off business plans or marketing plans, part of the problem may be in understanding the specific value of the process. We have determined that it’s not the product or finished plan that is of value. That is oftentimes a pretty bound document that no one really wants to read.

The process of doing a plan is nothing more than answering a series of thought-provoking questions.
Almost without fail, every time I start going through these questions with a client they have that look or say something like, “These
questions are ridiculous. I knew this was a waste of time. You’re asking me who my ideal customer is. It is anybody who purchases the
product I sell.”

Then I explain. “Yes, the world is your oyster but we are doing this because we want to grow your company. We are trying to determine who your ideal prospective customer is so we can more effectively find them and appeal to them.”

Then I ask them to humor me and answer the question and that’s when the wheels fall off.

Without fail I get strange looks from the client in the beginning of the process and without fail we eventually hit a question that is seemingly simple yet crucial to the person’s business and they have the hardest time in the world answering it.

It is at that point that the light bulb goes off and the value starts to emerge.

I don’t get very excited until we hit that stumper question – whatever it may be for your particular situation – because I know that’s where the value is. That is the question that is going to mature the person’s marketing or startup plan to the point of being successful because they will be forced to figure out the answer before they lunge forward.

This process has saved many an entrepreneur and manager from financial and personal setback or failure just like it saves Honda from putting out ugly cars that break.

Eric Egeland is the president of Capacity Consulting Inc. in Rock Hill, N.Y. He provides strategic consulting for multiple industries including insurance, real estate, education, energy and the Internet. He can be reached at (845) 430-1347 or