It is really hard to shut the door on a dream. It is painful to take a long-held vision, tie a bow around it and relegate it to a fond memory. However, this is what entrepreneurs have to do all the time. We have ideas that we believe in. We have a vision of how our idea will build a better world, reach more people, drive sales and create opportunities. We test, we cajole, we drive and we push… all in hopes that our idea was right and it will catch fire among its intended audience. But this doesn’t always happen, and so it is with our Family Business Assessment and its big sister product, Transition Strong.
Ten years ago, a small team of us had the idea that if we could create an assessment tool, make it robust and user friendly while also being automatic and web-based, that this would help to make it easier to have the initial conversation with family business owners about their future. We asked our growing network what they wanted, how they wanted it and what it needed to do. We collected ideas, ran pilots, gathered feedback, tweaked and prodded until we had something that we all just simply loved. We rolled it out across the nation to accolades. We were told that it was a beautiful tool, desperately needed and certain to succeed. And then the ardor cooled. A few people used it, a few sales occurred but never the rush that we had dreamed about.
So, we hit the road again, we revised the tool, spent a small fortune on re-programming and tried once more. But alas, sales were slow to nonexistent. We scratched our heads, vented our frustration among ourselves and tried to practice what we preach – listen to the customer.
This is what our customers told us: “We need a more robust tool”… “We want a complete package that tells us how to do this in a step-by-step manner”.
Ah ha! We got it! What we had just wasn’t in depth enough! We set off to meet our customer’s demands. We developed the in-depth and, we think, truly beautiful product known as Transition Strong. We tested, piloted, trained and celebrated. We were so proud! Our intended customers told us that it was terrific… the champagne flowed. Unfortunately, the sales did not. Since launching Transition Strong in mid-2013, our sales have never materialized.
After lots of conversations with our network, many questions asked and a few wise answers gleaned, we have decided, sadly, to put these two products to bed. They will no longer be available to the network as the cost of maintaining the site and keeping support staff on hand in case they are ever used has become too great a financial burden and a constant reminder of the need to change with the times.
What did we learn? We learned that we have a very smart and engaged network that almost learned too quickly. Most of the advisors that we spoke with had taken their initial (and free) exposure to the assessment and to Transition Strong and developed their own, customized list of questions and approach to working with their customers. Simply knowing that they could ask these questions and explore these issues was akin to providing training wheels and now those training wheels have come off. We know that you are doing good work and we know that as a network you are serving thousands of family businesses every year. You just don’t need these tools to do so.
We also learned that there are other tools in the marketplace that are meeting your needs, such as The Sellability Score, Core Value, The Business Transition Academy and others. We learned that what we are best at doing is not pushing a product, but rather at teaching a core methodology that increases opportunities for in-depth client engagements. We learned that we are really effective at imparting the key skills of questioning – so that advisors can do this on their own, without a fancy tool.
For those of you who are wondering ‘what next’, we plan to make a pen and paper copy of the basic assessment available online and free to members. You’ll see the types of questions that we asked in the assessment and the kinds of answers and feedback that we would give a client. You can use this as a guide to help you in your interactions as you develop your own core set of questions and your customized methodology. For the few pre-purchased assessments, we will certainly honor that commitment.
If you have any questions or you feel you need more support to serve your clients well, talk to us. We are here, we try very hard to listen and we want to support you as you support your clients. Let the journey continue.