Lilac Bush Lessons

Two things are stuck in my head this morning, both of which I know very little about, music and gardening.  A couple weeks ago, I had a chance to hear the folk singer Carrie Newcomer at the Old Town School in Chicago.  Both Carrie and the concert venue are little known national treasures that you should go out of your way to experience, which is as deep as I will go on my music review.  Towards the end of the concert a guy yelled out from the audience that he wanted to hear her song on planting trees.  It turns out he was referring to a song she wrote about planting lilac bushes in a house where you knew you were only going to live for a short period.  You see, which I never knew, it takes 3-6 years before a lilac bush ever produces flowers.   Why would anyone ever plant a tree knowing they would never experience its full beauty?

I guess most teachers live this concept every day.  They teach young children how to read and do arithmetic and seldom get to see the business plans they write after finishing their MBA’s or read the papers they write while in college.  I wonder if teachers think while on an airplane, which of their “problem” students might have designed the systems that keep the plane in the air?  Last week I had a chance to “judge” a high school senior doing her capstone presentation at one of the charter schools in the toughest area of our city.  The presentation was outstanding and as I looked at the teachers on the panel I could see the twinkle in their eyes as this young woman described her growth from 9th grade to now, deciding between the 11 colleges that want her to attend in the fall.  Lots of teachers must have planted lilac bushes.

I think back with real gratitude to those who have helped me develop my skills as a marketer.  Many of these people had nothing to gain, except the feeling one gets when helping somebody out.  I think of the people who taught me about budgeting, working with the FDA, writing brand plans, presenting to the “Office of the Chairman,” precision marketing, guerilla marketing and so many other skills.  I learned from those in my company, outside vendors and business partners and even those who worked at other companies.  Many of my most important lessons came from those who worked on my teams and constantly challenged my thinking.

I learned a lot from physicians, pharmacists and managed market customers.  Just a couple examples of what I mean.  One of the world’s most respected epileptologists told me that when trying to market, it is so critical to know how each of the customers was connected to other customers.  Those who trained at the same school or shared the same mentors often thought alike or at least had similar foundational principles.  It was much more important to recognize why a customer used a product than just how much they used.  Another influential neurologist taught me perhaps my greatest lesson, when he told me that marketing is really all about education.  If customers truly know your product and know the situation where it is the best choice, then the product will be used there.  The rest of marketing is all secondary to that educational work.

When a client asks me about my fees for consulting, coaching or mentoring I usually answer by outlining my standard rates, but then finish by saying that is what I charge, but I am always available to help for free.  Just pick up the phone and call.  I guess this is what I love most about our industry.  There are so many people out there constantly planting lilac bushes with no expectations of ever seeing the flowers.   Although not an expert, I think this is the time of year to plant new lilac bushes.  Help somebody out, watch them develop and enjoy the beautiful things that result.

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