Think Like a Martian

The value of a fresh perspective

All of the recent news around the NASA’s New Horizons mission and Pluto has me thinking of… Martians.

think-like-a-martianLet me explain.

How would you approach a solution marketing problem if you were a Martian, complete with a fresh perspective and unencumbered with what earthlings already knew?

A fresh perspective

The father of Nobel physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988) employed this mode of thinking with his son, asking, “Supposing we were Martians, and we came down from Mars to this Earth, and we would look at it from the outside.”  In other words, Feynman was encouraged to consider ”a way of looking at something anew, as if you were seeing it for the first time.”

The alien or Martian approach forces you to look at a problem afresh, to question your assumptions.  As it turns out, consultants provide this outsider’s perspective for their clients.  The client might be stuck.  Or they’re in a rut or a hole and just can’t see their way out.  That fresh perspective makes all the difference.  As we’ll see, consultants don’t have a monopoly on this outside-in thinking.

Two companies from one

Several years ago, I flew out to discuss a CRM firm’s strategy for the day. Over several years the company had developed two distinct arms of its business, one providing CRM software, the other providing offshore development services. The CEO had an emotional attachment to both businesses.  But the two pieces had few combined synergies and confused their prospective customers who could not quite grasp what the company did.  In other words, they were suffering from unclear company messaging.  Several of the company’s senior execs also saw this as an issue but had struggled to solve it for a year and they were stuck in a rut.  They weren’t even certain that the problem could be solved.  I did not know any of that until after I arrived.

Less than an hour into the strategy discussion, I picked up on the issue without anyone telling me about it.  This problem was holding them back; it was a major issue that needed to be resolved before they could undertake other strategic initiatives.

As a “Martian” unencumbered with the company’s history, I was free to look at the problem from the perspectives of a prospect, a CRM expert and a seasoned marketer. I shared my outsider’s perspective, which helped them to see the issue from a fresh perspective, as a problem that (1) needed to be solved and (2) could be solved. We spent several hours discussing how the problem could be solved and how it would clarify their company message.  Within a few months, the company split into two pieces, one clearly focused on CRM, the other clearly focused on outsourcing. Now their message was clear and prospects understood what they did.  Problem solved. And it all came together thanks to that unencumbered outsider perspective.

What if you’re an insider

You may be thinking that outsiders have a monopoly on outside perspective.  Not true.  Even as an “insider,” you can bring in at least some of that same outside perspective to think like a Martian.  Start by stripping away as many assumptions and limitations as possible and then rethink potential approaches.  Think “What would I think about this if I knew nothing about it until now?”  Then pick and choose from this partial list of outside-in approaches based on your particular challenges:

  • Reexamine your existing assumptions and limitations to see which are less valid.
  • Talk to complete outsiders such as mentors. Explain the situation and see how they might solve the problem.
  • Bring in the customer or prospect perspective – what do they think?
  • Ask field-facing staff in sales, implementation, and customer support.
  • Take different perspectives. If you’re in sales, think about what the engineering team might think. If you’re in finance, consider how the marketing folks might approach this.
  • Look to other companies and even other industries that might have had similar challenges to see how they’ve solved similar issues. Check out case studies. Look at successes and failures.
  • Consider the concepts you learned in business school or other professional studies and from experience at other companies.   What do those lessons tell you that you should do? Some of those lessons from school might seem naïve or too academic, but they might also reveal new approaches that you can try.
  • Ask your company’s business investors, board members, and business partners for suggestions based on their experience.
  • Conduct focus groups and surveys.
  • Brainstorm ideas with peers inside the company and/or outsiders. Focus on building a long list before you discount any of the ideas. It usually takes 20 or more ideas to get to the good stuff.



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Filed under Case Studies, Messaging, Software marketing, Solution Marketing, Solution Marketing Community, The Solution Marketing Blog

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