“Our Business is Fine.” Is it? Really?

View From The Ridge: 71

August 26, 2016

Greg White


"Our business is fine." If this phrase was ever more dangerous than it is in commerce today, I can't imagine when that could have been.

With Amazon, Walmart, Alibaba, Ebay and others enabling the empowered customer, everyone is competing with the biggest and the best. More than ever before, empowered consumers can select everything they need, with or without you.

No matter how you define yourself; retail, ecommerce, distributor, wholesaler, manufacturer or even CPG brand, commerce has changed, and changed forever. Those companies that think they are doing "fine" are in for a rude awakening- if market forces don't take them out in their sleep.

Fine Isn't Good Enough

I love the sometimes inadvertent wisdom in even the silliest movies. For instance, this gem from a great philosopher in a historic comedy masterpiece seems to apply today:

"You're either growin' or your dyin'. There ain't no third direction."
Big Tom Callahan - Tommy Boy

Many companies are concerned, and rightfully so. They see their industry, even their own business as under siege. Truth is, the savvy leaders in commerce today aren't coming after your industry, or even your company. They are coming after your customers. After all, they understand that the reason they (and you) exist is to serve the wants and needs of the customer. It's not about you. It's about the customer. And the sooner you realize it, the sooner you'll be able to position your company for success.

Blockbuster, Radio Shack and Motorola Were Fine

Blockbuster. Radio Shack. Motorola. Not all are gone, but in markets they formerly dominated, they are virtually forgotten. The fate of these companies shows that no matter how powerful your position or strong your hold on the market, you are vulnerable to a dramatic change. If these mammoths can be vanquished, then anyone can.

Remember Blockbuster late fees? I'm sure many of us do, and with a little, "They got what they deserved," thrown in. Because of their return policy, Blockbuster faced a huge PR issue. Blockbuster management determined they had a problem and focused a huge portion of their efforts on regaining customer trust. They conquered the consumer-trust issue just in time for the business model of the entire video market to assure their demise. Redbox (they still around?), Netflix and on-demand literally took away their customers. How did Blockbuster miss that?

Blockbuster thought they were fine if they could just make their customers happy. What they missed was that happy wasn't good enough, and that their customers now had other options. What Blockbuster needed to do was change their business model to the new world.

What Should You Change?

To survive and thrive in a fast-moving marketplace, you must anticipate and embrace change, and counter it with your own internal change. The ways and perceptions of the past will not enable you to keep pace and anticipate market directions. You need to look at the direction of your customers, industry and even the world for insights.

  1. Customers - what has, or could change their power, perceptions or process in their commerce journey? Embrace their power, influence their perceptions, and engage their process to respond to and predict their actions.
  2. Competition - what is your competition doing that threatens your business? And have no doubt, you ARE competing against Amazon and a host of other behemoths. Define your competition's advantage and close the gap, surpass them, or find a niche where you can compete.
  3. People, Process, Technology - how do these 3 areas hinder you from responding to and predicting your customers, industry, market and the world. Enable your organization to be visionary, pre-emptive and responsive to inevitable change.

How Do You Change?

You can do it. You must do it. And if you look at the world like a disruptor, you will do it. To disrupt the status quo, in your own company or in the marketplace, you must define the solution as it should be. Approach things as if you know nothing about how it’s been done to date. Start from scratch and design with the end in mind. Our company used the following process that helped turn us into a market leader in the face of overwhelming odds:

  1. Question everything – why do you do things this way? Presume only that your presumptions are wrong.
  2. Simplify – to paraphrase Ocham’s razor: the simplest solution is usually the best one
  3. Pivot – be ready and courageous enough to change…possibly dramatically…at a moment's notice, based on your new knowledge

Fine is a word you should strike from your company's vocabulary. The pace of change in commerce requires an awakening and transformation. You must think in new ways and anticipate.

You can't afford to settle for fine. You must strive for Great.