Expanding Beyond the 80/20 Rule

80 20 rule

It’s handy and useful to employ mental tools and rubrics to organize your life in an effort to be more efficient and productive. But it’s also important not to mistake the maps you’re reading for the territory itself. As useful as such things are, it’s possible to be blinkered by them, and cut yourself off from insights that you might miss if you hew too closely to following them.

Consider the 80/20 rule.

It’s one of those business-book guidelines everyone is familiar with. I know I reference it a lot. In various forms, it asserts that you’ll get 80% of your result from 20% of your efforts, whether that’s physical labor, advertising spending or whatever.

For example, I get 80% of my communications from 20% of my customers. Those are the ones who proactively reach out to me: to ask questions, to ask for help or just to see how I’m doing. As a consequence, those are also the ones who are always on my mental radar. They’re the first ones I reach out to: whether it’s passing product and promotional information on to them, or just to see how they themselves are doing. That’s the easy part. The other part, while I wouldn’t say it’s hard, takes active awareness and work: making sure that I don’t forget about the other 80% of my customers.

Related to where I’m going with this, I’ll digress a little. When I first got started on the manufacturing and distribution side of the business, an old friend, who was my Denon and Mission rep for years, told me, “You will always get 80% of your business from 20% of your customers.” And it’s true, more or less.

But there are two things to remember: That 20% of orders you get from the dealers who aren’t your top dealers still matters. And, even more importantly: How much they’re buying from you today isn’t necessarily as much as they could.

It’s always on my mind that maybe the reason these dealers only form 20% of my revenue is because we don’t talk enough. So, I make an effort to reach out to them.

Here’s a recent example. Last week, we added a new brand with some fairly niche appeal: It would be a good fit for some of our dealers but by no means all of them. Off the top of my head, I thought of half a dozen of my dealers who might be interested. So I reached out to them — and they were. Then I asked myself, “Who am I forgetting?” So I opened up the spreadsheet of all of my accounts, and read my way down the list. There were another half-dozen whose named popped out; “Oh, right — them!”

So, I reached out to them as well, starting with a general checkup to see how they’re doing, and working around to introducing our new brand. And they, too were interested, just like the ones whose names are always on my mind.

I don’t want to belabor the point, so I’ll just emphasize that sometimes you don’t have to venture too far afield to generate some new sales: Just reach out more often to the people you’re already doing business with but don’t always talk to.