JOHN has a good business, in fact it has just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Products are well made, manufactured on site and sold through quality dealers and distributors. Staff are happy, they work well together and no one has quit in three years. No apparent dramas, but John realises something is not quite right.
While sales are increasing each year, the resulting profit is actually going backwards. Not a huge percentage in any one year, but he recognises that if it continues the business probably won’t see its 25th anniversary.
The competition hasn’t changed much, same players, same products, little variance in pricing. Even though he likes to think their product is different he concedes there’s no real difference between them. No disruptors in the market but does that mean they’re safe or it’s just a matter of time? Their product has been a stalwart of the industry for the past three decades but now he’s not so sure if it will be around for another three. Other areas of their industry are changing quickly. When is it their turn, what will they do?
The more he looks around the company, the more he notices the little flaws and issues. No single standout, but together he realises they are contributing to their slow descent into closure. The kind that sneaks up on you – the loss of a contract here and there that is replaced by a smaller one; customer requests and dissatisfactions not encountered before; slight inconsistencies between departments and with customers. A feeling is creeping over him that there is no real place for the business to go other than marching in place, he feels like he has lost control of the company’s direction. Strategy hasn’t really changed much in years – one foot in front of the other – incremental growth for the next 12 months. He realises that he knows little about what happens to his products once they leave the factory; he doesn’t really know first-hand what customers feel about their offerings other than a few comments from dealers and distributors – he’s never talked to a customer; he wants the company to be a leader, not a follower. He can’t ignore the signs anymore. Things have got to change.
“How do we change our strategic direction? It means moving out of my comfort zone. Am I ready for that – are the staff? I can’t just turn the business on its head – we can’t afford total disruption – but change is going to require some disruption. But what, how? Do I really have the time for this? Can I afford to do it? Can I afford not to?”
Does John’s story sound familiar? In my experience, he is not that different from a lot of owners, whether in manufacturing or services, who feel that their businesses just aren’t achieving what they did, even three to five years ago. They see the market changing and their businesses missing out on opportunities for growth – but aren’t sure what needs to change to become more than what they have become. How often have you thought something similar about your business?
Many owners have fallen into the trap of working IN the business, being tactical, making sure operations and sales are smooth, but not working ON the business, looking beyond today. Not being strategic or really looking farther down the road than the next 12 months to see where the business is headed; having no direct contact with customers, just relying on what others tell them. Not really being in control of their destiny – like John.
And, what about John?
John decided he had to make a change and regain control of business direction. I started John and his leadership team on small steps. First, we worked on clearly articulating his vision for the business for the next 10-15 years and shared this with staff to ensure they are involved in achieving it. The next steps included gaining a deeper understanding of the needs and desires of their customers by spending time with them in one to one interviews and observations using their products and services. With these insights, they are building a culture which encourages innovation and deeper customer engagement by all staff; improving products, processes and services to meet their needs, not just a low price option or improvement on the competition; a strategy which better aligns these areas of the business to customer needs; and a brand message and value propositions based on what the customer values. Through mentoring and training, the business is transitioning into a new way of operating, embedding new skills and capabilities that sets a pace of change which the business can manage and sustain. John is regaining control, increasing profits and creating a long-term future for the business.
If you are ready to work on your business to transform your strategic view and become a customer-centric organisation, we need to talk. I am always happy to have a chat about your business needs.
An Outlier Thinker
According to the Oxford dictionary, an outlier is a person or thing differing from all other members of a particular group or set.
I define it as a business that stands apart from the rest. You differentiate your business on the experience of your customers and the relevance of your offerings to their needs, not on price. You are engaged with them, online and face-to-face, to understand their needs and to provide solutions, not just products and services. Staff are well trained and empowered to work with customers to fulfil their expected levels of service and product offerings. You do the right thing by them, even if it costs your business.
You don’t always get things right but you aren’t afraid to say to your customers that you got it wrong; can we work together to make it right? Your business is aligned to them across all areas; strategy, culture, vision, products, services and brand message. It’s not an easy road but you recognise that it’s a transition, a marathon, not a sprint.
If your business is not reflected in this description of alignment, why not? What will it take?
Customer-centric thinking starts first with the customers and their problems. This kind of thinking and follow through leads to a business becoming a customer-led innovator because once you and your staff listen closely to them to better understand their needs, you can’t ‘un-hear’ these conversations, and change occurs for the betterment of your customer, staff and ultimately the business.
The customer-centric view first seeks to gain a deep understanding of the problem by walking in their shoes; from these insights gained, multiple problems are uncovered and a variety of solutions are considered, designed, reviewed and then tested with your customers. It is an iterative process, not linear.
In a customer-centric business, you leave no experience for your customer to chance. Beginning to end, the entire journey is considered, planned, and tested with the customer – then implemented, monitored and revised as needed.
This means transitioning from a product or service business to a solutions business.
It’s not a journey that you take alone. As a mentor and trainer, I work with you, your staff and customers each step of the way – uncover where you excel, help you spend time with your customers, and then we determine how to raise the remainder of your business to your current strengths across strategy, culture, vision, products, services and brand message.
Your transition begins now.