A few years ago, I did some work with a business unit (BU) that was evolving its business. It was transforming itself from a single-product producer to a complete system supplier. It had really stepped up the way it conducted business and its prospects were exciting.

In the course of that process, I attended the industry’s largest annual trade show. My BU had expanded its display and had made some fairly significant changes to it. We even had a great floor location. All our people were excited to show me.

When I arrived, I’m sorry to say I was underwhelmed. Our booth was lost in a sea of hundreds of others; it didn’t stand out. The booth itself wasn’t bad, but it lacked one crucial element: lights. A few well-placed spots and floods would have (literally) lit up the display. One by one, I took the BU decision-makers to the exhibit hall’s entrance to show them what I saw–or didn’t see. One by one, each one made the same observation.

It was such a simple solution, so why didn’t our booth have lights? Someone was worried about the (small) percentage of cost it would incur to add them. Unfortunately, no one weighed that cost against its potential benefit. We had been trying to make the leap to become a first-tier supplier, but first-tier suppliers stand out. We faded into the background, and no one noticed. With one simple change, we could have been one of the big dogs at that show. We would have drawn people to us and the benefit would have completely justified the cost. 

What did I say to the decision-makers when they gazed over the show hall and were disappointed with the impact of our display? You have to dress like the company you want to become. If you wait till you get there, you never will. I really believe that.

One more thing: customers don’t measure you by how far you’ve come. They measure you by where you need to be. Proceed accordingly.