What a problem to have, you’re probably thinking.

I don’t have enough product to meet my current demand! I wish I had more to sell, but I don’t. So why would I have to spend a nickel on consumer engagement? And why shouldn’t I tell me channel parterns to sit down and hang on? Well, time for golf!


If you’ve ever been in this situation, you know that it’s a far more nuanced – and potentially volatile – situation than that. Channel partners are angrier when they want more of their stuff than you can supply than the alternative, in my experience. They hate being on the short end of the stick.

You, on the other hand, are watching your accelerator bonus disappear because you can’t sell what you don’t have. Economic opportunity loss is turning a record year into a frustrating one.

This happens, from time to time. Either you’re in a business that’s booming across the board (like photo-voltaic cells in the solar business, where nobody has enough to satisfy demand) or – even better – you’ve got a hit product that you can’t keep in stock.

So the question for sales and marketing people is, “What do I do when I can’t sell any more stuff?”

I’ve been in this situation before in several companies and recently spoke to a CEO whose company grew 500% over the past year – “We could have sold more… we just couldn’t keep up with demand…” – who is neck deep in this exact situation today. I also spoke to a few friends on Twitter to get their experiences. Here’s what it all boils down to.

Tom Asacker (@tomasacker), a former medical device CEO and currently a marketing & leadership author (with a new book entitled Opportunity Screams: Unlocking Hearts and Minds in Today’s Idea Economy, out – and speaker, told me, “Tell him to keep his eye on the quality, service and delivery balls!” Amen to that.

Jeffrey J. Davis (@JeffreyJDavis), the Senior Vice President and GM of the global Superabsorber Business for Evonik Industries, told me, “If industry is structurally under supplied (like mine) he should improve industry reinvestment economics by raising price,” but also reminded us that, “You don’t know your true value until you lose a customer. Business will be better in the long run operating close 2 the margin.”

Ken Rosen (@ken_rosen), Managing Partner of Performance Works, advised me that, “At min, 1-avoid infuriating cur customer now; 2: set up 4 growth when production can meet demand.”

Here’s what I’ve learned over time:

#1. Sales: understand this isn’t forever – and keep repeating this like a mantra. It will keep you from believing your own good fortune. Arrogance will kill you stone dead.

I was at Sony in the roaring ‘90’s. Trust me. When you can’t supply what your channel wants – and you lord it over them with arrogance – they won’t forget. The time will come when they can even the score. Samsung and LG owe a lot of their current success to the bad feelings the Sony people left in the hearts of its major partners.

Give them access to information (nothing good grows in the dark), keep them alerted to developments, be humble but not apologetic, and keep pressing all the reasons why you and your product are in such hot demand. Even if you can’t supply enough, step up your category captaincy. Educate your partners so they expect to hear it from you, not from the other guys.

#2. Business Development: plan for the shake-out now. The day will come soon enough where your channels, resellers, distributors and everyone else will have more than enough. Their exclusivity will end. Treat all fairly, but start thinking about what constitutes the characteristics of the “last dealer standing” in your market. Lay the ground work now to be their partner of preference when that day arrives.

#3. Marketing: mind-share isn’t a function of supply chains. When you don’t have supply, create more desire. Exclusivity really does work. Push your thought leadership and create experts (not just fickle evangelists or fans). Education goes a long way to keeping your consumers devoted to you and away from your more available alternatives.

#4. More marketing: treat your best fans a little differently. When the product is scarce, scarcity of information rules. How can you give your best ambassadors the ability to be in-the-know just a little bit more than everybody else?

#5. Management: apart from keeping all these other plates spinning, take the time to celebrate your success – and each other – for this accomplishment. Nothing can tear a team apart better than unbridled success. Departmental jealousies and a need for credit will rear their ugly heads, and even the most seemingly well-intentioned act can backfire when everyone else wonders why you singled out ‘that group’ for recognition when it was ‘us’ all along.

That’s what I’ve learned. What advice would you give?