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How a Major Crisis Created a Business Opportunity for Richard Branson

Mark Donnolo, SalesGlobeToday’s guest post is by Mark Donnolo, managing partner of SalesGlobe and author of The Innovative Sale: Unleash Your Creativity for Better Customer Solutions and Extraordinary Results and What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation: Connecting the Corner Office to the Front Line.



Most people assume that constraints are a bad thing, but in reality, business constraints can actually be a catalyst for creative solutions and new opportunities.

Consider how Virgin Atlantic responded to a major crisis just two years after it was founded. Allen Kay, chairman and CEO of Korey Kay & Partners, an award-winning advertising agency in charge of Virgin’s brand at the time, recently told me that, initially, Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson aimed his high-frills, low-fare airline at 20-something Americans traveling to England. When the United States became embroiled in a conflict with Libya, however, international travel declined and the airline’s nascent customer base dissipated.

At first, Branson was set to completely shut down the airline, but Kay worked with him to find a solution. After asking some questions, Kay discovered that first-class passengers were still filling seats. He figured that these businesspeople with billions of dollars on the line in pending deals would fly during a heightened terrorism threat because the deals were worth the risk. Kay suggested reconfiguring the seats to make first class bigger (a fairly simple task) and promoting the empty seats to first-class flyers. Branson approved the idea, profit soared, and the airline was saved from having to shut down.

So when Kay and Virgin Atlantic found themselves faced with a serious constraint – their target customer was no longer flying – they got creative and ultimately made the airline better. Today, the airline is known for its affordable upper class and unique customer experience.

Constraints enable creativity. It sounds like a paradox, but without constraints, options are unlimited. For example, if your customer needs a new CRM system and has no budget or time constraints, it would be easy to sell that customer a product. It’s more likely, however, that your customer would have a tight budget, a three-month time frame, and an obligation to get approval from the CFO, who may or may not be a fan of your product. How can you devise a sales strategy that will close this deal?

While every industry faces specific challenges, a sales organization’s constraints will most often involve the following:

  • Time. A deadline must be met.
  • Organization limitations. The talent, manpower, or policies of the organization limit what can be achieved for the customer.
  • Supplier capabilities. Providers have practical limitations, including the amount of product they can provide to the organization and how quickly they can provide it.
  • Cost. Labor and material costs limit the company’s margins.
  • Quota. The organization must reach a performance objective.
  • Customer requirements. Customers have high expectations and performance hurdles.
  • Competitive environment. Competitors’ capabilities sometimes dictate what the customers want.
  • Price. The customer or market values the offer at a certain dollar amount.

When was the last time you or your team came up with an idea to solve a customer’s problem? What else could you have done for the customer if you hadn’t been limited by budget or other constraints? Start thinking of constraints as opportunities for creativity. You never know – this way of approaching challenges could lead to a great business idea.


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