The Power of Possibility

The Challenge

A major manufacturer was facing a dealer revolt. Their twenty largest dealers were threatening to switch allegiances to the competition. The manufacturer had sat on the fence for years while a new but unregulated channel of internet dealers had started selling into the other dealers’ regions. For the manufacturer, it wasn’t so bad. After all, this new channel was selling millions of dollars of product, and more importantly, this internet channel could be the leading edge for the future of the industry.

The dealers had a radically different view. They had invested years of their lives and millions of dollars in building their businesses. Now these internet dealers were taking advantage of the market the traditional channel had built. Much of the traditional dealers’ investment had gone into building service, maintenance and repair capabilities that the manufacturer had required. The internet dealers were selling product far below market prices and without service. My client, the CEO of the manufacturing company, asked me to facilitate a meeting with the twenty dealers who were threatening to boycott. I agreed, but with the provision that my client take a stand and get off the fence.

The Process

Most people react more strongly to a potential loss than they do to an equally possible gain. It’s a natural, but primitive instinct. The fear of scarcity almost always overwhelms the possibility of abundance. Holding narrow self-interests will do that. The key to ending this standoff would be to create shared vision for a more abundant future. And it would have to happen quickly.

I interviewed the four most influential dealers prior to the meeting, taking complete notes of everything said. At the start of the meeting, I read out what they had told me. I asked if anyone had anything to add. No hands went up. They had been heard and fairly represented.

I then shared my own experience with the audience. Ten years earlier, I had been the president of multi-billion dollar, international technology distributor. It had taken 25 years to build that company, and in less than 2 years, it had disappeared along with a number of other billion dollar companies and hundreds of other companies in a massive industry restructuring. Why? The industry failed to find a way to collaborate.

The truth can be sobering. Everyone in the room understood the implications. Either find a way to work together or face extinction. They agreed to stay in the room until a solution was created, one that could be implemented in 60 days or less.

The Result

By aligning around common interests, these people immediately overcame the limitations created by self-interests and fear. The pie got larger. That’s the powerful effect of a shared vision and collaboration. Possibility emerges where there was nothing possible before.

What had been a virtual standoff for more than two years was suddenly transformed into an energizing and exciting dialogue. I challenged the group to create a plan that could be executed in less than 60 days. Ideas freely flowed. In less than two hours, we created a plan and outlined an agreement for the industry’s first and only regulated internet sales channel. It is a collaborative effort among the twenty dealers and the manufacturer that establishes territories, responsibilities and shared investment.

The 60 day challenge was met, but it’s far from perfect. To move it ahead, everyone agreed to treat this as a series of experiments that would allow the group the “fast fail.” The faster they learn what doesn’t work, the faster they can create something that will. I am confident they will succeed.