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2004-06-17 14:52:55

Law #13: The Law of Sacrifice

(This entry is part of a series I am writing on The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.)

The Law of Sacrifice says that "you have to give up something in order to get something".

The cool thing about this law is that it's not automatically attractive.  It makes you think. 

The Law of Focus isn't like that.  When people hear about the Law of Focus, the first reaction is to say, "Yes, yes, focus is good."  People seem to forget that the word "focus" implies a decision about what you are not going to do.  With the word "sacrifice", that particular implication is much clearer.

But in some sense, these two laws are the same idea with different expressions.  There is power in focus, but to get there, we have to make tough decisions about what things we will not do.

Aiming once again at Scotts Valley

I'll give Sun a break today and go back to picking on Borland.  Here is a perfect example of a company that can't focus because they're not willing to sacrifice.  Their product line is all over the map.

The problem with not having a focus is that your customers can only describe you in terms of your past.  Borland's "Excellence Endures" tagline even reinforces this.  It's a fine tagline, but it doesn't say much to me about the future.  It is a celebration of their 20 years of history.

Borland is a fine company with some great products.  But they should be telling us more about their future than their past.  In the next five years, what one thing will Borland do better than anybody else?

(To be fair, however, we should admit that Borland's marketing may not matter much.  Microsoft needs Borland (and Apple, and Sun) to exist in order to give the illusion that their products have competition.  In this case, Excellence will continue to Endure, but Mediocrity would suffice, since Microsoft will always stop a little bit short of killing them off.)

Saying "No"

The Law of Sacrifice is all about saying "no" to opportunities.  This skill is incredibly difficult to learn.  I suspect that the only way to learn to say "no" is to experience the pain of saying "yes" too often.

That's how I learned it.  SourceGear used to be all over the map.  We smiled and described that condition with a positive spin, telling ourselves that we were "opportunistic".  But life inside the company got pretty confusing.  We had several product efforts going on, all unrelated.  We had a consulting division doing engagements which were not related to any of our products.  When someone asked us "What does SourceGear do?" it would take ten minutes to explain.  By the time we were done, the elevator had gone back and forth to the lobby three times.

Our revenue was high, but we had no focus.  We were in a strategy which was positive in the short-term and negative in the long-term.  So we sacrificed.  We started saying "no".

At first, it was really hard.  People called us for a consulting gig and we turned it down.  Even as I write this, it sounds crazy.  I said "no" to money!  What was I thinking?

It took a while, but things got better.  A lot better.  Today, SourceGear is a focused company, but to get to this point, we had to stop saying "yes" to every opportunity we saw.