Kathryn Roy wrote the entry I am posting below. She is Managing Partner at Precision Thinking, and has just written a new eBook: Ten steps to a more engaging sales presentation. Ms. Roy has been pondering ways to apply my interest in insights to the corporate world, and offered to share her ideas with my readers. This is the first of what I hope will be several contributions. I hope you enjoy it and can apply it. You can reach her at 617/548-9240, Kathryn@precisionthinking.com.

Gary Klein


Tempted by how-to books with compelling stories and anecdotes to adopt a business innovation? The underlying idea may be a good one. But misapplying a new idea or introducing it in the wrong place can absorb time and resources that could have been better spent. How could you discern which ideas might help you and which won’t? 

Ask this question: “For this to work here, what must be true?”

Here are examples of how this simple question can help determine when to apply these business tools.

Marketing metrics

No one would consider running a business without metrics. The key is to understand their limits and unintended consequences.  

A new manager proposed changes to their website based on Google Analytics metrics. But most visitors were channel partners looking for technical information. One answer to “For Google Analytics metrics to show how to improve prospects’ experiences on our website, what must be true?” would be: “The majority of visitors would need to be prospects (not partners).”

Unintended consequences

A sales team told marketing to increase the percentage of leads marketing passed to sales that were “ready to buy.” When marketing did so, the number of leads passed to sales decreased. And salespeople won fewer, not more of the opportunities they pursued. The competitors’ salespeople, by engaging earlier had influenced prospects’ purchase criteria. The answers to “In order for a tighter criteria for leads marketing passes to sales to boost sales, what must be true?” would be: “Marketing can increase the number of leads,” and “We’ll be catching prospects at the same time as our competition.”

Net Promoter Score

Net Promoter Score monitors customer satisfaction through brief, regular surveys asking clients if they would recommend your company to their friends and peers. As with most surveys, the sample size needs to be large enough that the metric won’t swing wildly based on outliers and you can’t survey the same users so often they ignore your requests.

When a multi-billion dollar company started recruiting survey companies only one vendor pushed back, pointing out: “While you have thousands of customers, they don’t all use the same solutions. Your customers using solution X, who account for the greatest share of revenues, number fewer than a hundred. And you only have contact information for the buyer, not the end users.” The answers to “For Net Promoter Score effectively monitor customer satisfaction, what must be true?” would be: “we have thousands of customers using each solution,” and “we can reach the end user.”

Inbound Marketing

Inbound Marketing excited many companies who find cold calling and direct or email marketing losing effectiveness. The idea is to produce valuable content and promote that content through social channels like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Many B2B companies were devastated by their lack of success with Inbound Marketing. One company discovered belatedly that the hospital executives they targeted avoided LinkedIn where recruiters would besiege them. These same executives were too busy to use Facebook.  If the company had asked, “For Inbound Marketing to work with our prospect base, what would have to be true?” The answers –  “Our prospects are active on social sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, and they search there for information about the topics we’d publish,” – might spur research to validate these assumptions.


Keep abreast of new tools and techniques. But avoid embarrassing failures by first asking, “For this to work here, what must be true?” You may not uncover all the potential pitfalls. But identifying even a few key assumptions increases your odds of success. Focusing on when innovations apply also prevents you from permanently discarding good ideas that can work in other situations.

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