What’s The Problem?

Major League Baseball’s draft is tonight, which has me thinking about “Moneyball,” the best book ever about the way baseball teams are built. I love this one scene from the movie adaptation of “Moneyball,” where the scouts are sitting around the room, trying to figure out how to replace three key stars from the previous year’s team, and the team’s GM — played by Brad Pitt — has his mind on something entirely different:

Grady: We’re trying to solve the problem here, Billy.

Billy Beane: Not like this you’re not. You’re not even looking at the problem.

Grady: We’re very aware of the problem. I mean…

Billy Beane: Okay, good. What’s the problem?

Grady: Look, Billy. We all understand what the problem is. We have to replace…

Billy Beane: Okay, good. What’s the problem?

Grady: The problem is we have to replace three key players in our lineup.

Billy Beane: No. What’s the problem?

Pittaro: Same as it’s ever been. We’ve gotta replace these guys with what we have existing.

Billy Beane: No. What’s the problem, Barry?

Barry: We need 38 home runs, 120 RBI’s and 47 doubles to replace.

Billy Beane: [Billy groans, loudly] The problem we’re trying to solve is that there are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there’s fifty layers of crap, and then there’s us. It’s an unfair game.

Let me bring this around to email for a second. Every time I get to talk with other email marketers about their programs, I keep coming back to that quote: What’s the problem? When you’re on the inside, it’s hard to see what the problem is. You think the issue is that your open rates are too low, or you’re not growing your list fast enough, or your click throughs aren’t where they need to be, or you’re not getting the results you wanted on that A/B test, or whatever. Doesn’t matter.

You’re lost in the weeds. You’re solving the wrong problem.

And what I usually end up asking is: Are your emails any good? Are you delivering something of real value to your subscribers?

To steal a phrase from Steve Martin: You need to “be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Are you that good?

Don’t worry about the rest of the metrics. First you’ve got solve a simple problem: The work you’re producing probably isn’t good enough, and until you make it really, REALLY good, fixing it is the only problem that matters.

It’s not the wake-up call people want to hear, but sometimes it’s the one you need.