I have been a fan of Outside-In Thinking for a long time. In the late ’90s, we used the principles of Outside-In thinking to position the approach of our content management solution in the market. Our message was that the furor over the growing amount of content was meaningless. What mattered is managing the content that delivered value to the visitors you your site. Focus on their needs and work backwards to determine how to deliver what they need.
For me, the idea of working backwards started formulating from solving maze puzzles when I was a kid. Back then, I never really spent much time trying to understand why it was easier to solve mazes backwards; it just was.
After reading a bit about it, it turns out there is a reason working backwards is easier. Most maze designers put the deadends at the front of the maze. Working front to back, you are more likely to encounter these, and for a large puzzle, get frustrated and delayed. In some cases, you might just quit and move on to another challenge. There are some approaches to solving mazes (following a wall or looking for a continuous wall), but the working backwards is my favorite.
The idea also applies to many business processes, particularly for sales and marketing. A sales process from the beginning–finding a prospect–to the end–closing the deal–can be like a maze. There are lots of potential dead ends. However, as you try to design the optimal approach, working backwards usually shows a path with less roadblocks.
In these scenario, you also have to put on your empathy hat and get into the mind and heart of the buyer. They are ready to buy your product. What needs to happen right before that–maybe getting final budget approval? So what is needed to get budget approval? A clear case for the value of the purchase. And so on.
Thinking broader, an organization has a revenue target. To achieve it a certain number of deals are needed. To generate those deals, a certain number of leads are required. To generate those leads, different marketing programs are required.
These examples are pretty obvious, but that is not unusual. Thinking Outside-In and working backwards usually makes things seem easier. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still encounter roadblocks. And how you avoid or minimize the impact of them is important. But Outside-In thinking keeps you focused on the goal; instead of wasting too much time agonizing over issues (roadblocks) that may not be relevant in the path to success. It also reminds you that customers don’t want to waste time with needless roadblocks either–the maze that is being navigated is theirs (how to make the right purchase) not yours. If you help them avoid roadblocks, they will appreciate it immensely.
The next time you are planning a marketing program, a sales campaign, or even strategizing on how to grow an account, give Outside-In thinking a try. Work backwards from your goal and see if it helps you optimize your plan. I’m confident that it will.
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