I’ve had an interesting couple of weeks thanks to two very interesting events I was able to attend. Firstly I had the absolute pleasure to hear Malcolm Gladwell speak last week. He was talking about a concept he calls “Expert Failure.” He was suggesting that once you feel you have mastered your area of expertise, you stop seeing the warning signs of what might be breaking down or what might possibly go wrong.

Secondly I had the honor of being a judge for the ACE Regional Exposition. Here, I had the opportunity to hear the success stories of some of Canada’s top student entrepreneurs. One in particular caught my attention. He was a polite young Mexican who is currently studying for his Business degree. While he is completing his degree here in Canada he also owns and operates the second largest online bookstore in Mexico with annual sales exceeding $1 million dollars. As he shared his story, I was astounded how much he knew about the day to day operations of this business that runs in a completely different company, and I realized this is someone so far from expert failure that we could all learn a lesson or two from this astounding young, hardworking man and the principles of Malcolm Gladwell.

Gladwell shared a story about General Hooker and the Battle of Chancellorsville in the American Civil War who had his scouts trying to tell him the enemy was getting set to invade. He didn’t listen to them and as a result his army was caught by surprise and he lost of battle that he should never have lost. Our young little student learned early in his career that his customer can tell him better than anyone what information they require and what trust factors need to be in place before they will buy from him. In Mexico, adults are very uncomfortable purchasing online. It took him years to build enough trust with them, as well as to train them to place their orders online instead of over the phone. He continues to maintain this high level of customer intimacy.

Lesson Learned – When is the last time you surveyed your clients or received feedback? With the onslaught of Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, etc, it’s never been easier to have a real conversation with your target audience. Survey them, poll them, interview them – find out what you can do better and what they need from you to feel comfortable doing business with you.

As this young Mexican presented his story, he more than any of his young competitors shared an incredible amount of measurable results. He learned that his first website wasn’t effective in attracting clients, so he changed it. It was better, but his analytics told him it could be better yet. So more changes. He is constantly looking at patterns, and preferences, revising his approach and quickly implementing changes. He does the same with his costs – looking at the amount he is buying from his suppliers, negotiating better rates, so that he can maintain his competitive pricing for his customers.

Lesson Learned – How often do you measure the effectiveness of your marketing? Do you look at your costs and ways to minimize these? Do you review the results, split test ads, revise your approach and quickly implement the changes? Do you look at the stats of your website every week and consider ways to add to your content, change your content to make it better?
Sometimes we get so busy that we assume that the future will only be better, and then find ourselves in yet another valley; scratching our heads, wondering how that happened AGAIN! LISTEN, LEARN, MEASURE, IMPROVE. Don’t become a victim of expert failure.

AvatarCidnee Stephen

Cidnee Stephen is the owner of Strategies for Success, a marketing company that focuses on the needs of budget minded small businesses and professional services. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.