I learned a very good lesson while working for Intrawest Corp., in 2001. This was when the company was thriving and leading the world in Ski resort management. I worked for the VP of Marketing, and we were making advances in our data management and marketing which pushed the technological resources of the time to the limit.
It’s always tempting to try and strive for a perfect solution. ‘Being the best’ is a phrase which is bandied around very easily. However, it’s also fairly meaningless if the best is so costly there’s no point trying to market it. Even the term ‘best’ is very subjective. Our task was to create a system for marketing via email, that would draw on data collected over the previous 5 years or so. Because of the internal politics of the company, using our own tech department was considered a law cast in stone.
There was however a problem. Firstly they’d never built email systems drawing on this type of data. True enough, it was merely technology, and could be done, but the learning curve would be steep. Secondly, the tech department, while very competent, were already over stretched. This new project would draw many hours of time, probably five or six hundred hours at the very least. Completion, even working with the best estimates, would be four to six months.
True enough, it would eventually interface perfectly with all the data, and all updates would be virtually instantaneous. Those updates had importance, often being the difference between a $350 sale and a $365 sale. The project would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, at the very least – however there was a budget.
When an outside company came along who had already built virtually the same product we needed there was resistance. Why should we go outside the company – we have our own tech department! Some very influential individuals felt affronted at the thought that someone outside the company might be able to do the job at all, and maybe even better.
At the time the idea of Email Marketing was still in its infancy, and no-one really knew what return a campaign may drive. Risking a commitment of several hundred thousand dollars, particularly on a project that was not internally managed, required a leap of faith which to those with an internally focused mindset, was almost monumental. To settle for a system that did everything, except the instant update of data, was to settle for partial success.
In actuality the update of data was achieved, though there was a small delay (something like a couple of hours). Instead of a six month implementation, we went with the outside company and rolled out the first campaign two weeks after the decision was made. The tech department wasn’t happy, and pointed out that the system only did 90% of what we required.
The new system was introduced early enough to catch the early season skiers for that year – a key moment in the ski industry as it sets the pace for the entire season. No one really knew what would happen with the first campaign and the expected revenue was not thought to be high, perhaps a few thousand dollars. In reality campaign number one generated no less than $850,000 revenue over a three day period. The way marketing would run in the company changed from that moment forward. In the following months we would subsequently run three or four campaigns a day – often with similar results.
And the lesson? Well, we could have waited six months and reinvented a wheel which had been built very well elsewhere. We could have gone for that additional 10% of functionality. It would have cost us a ski season, and when you are marketing 9 ski resorts that’s a lot of money. Sometimes 90% really is enough.