Here is the entrepreneur’s dilemma: Holding on to what brought you success will likely spell your future downfall. Sounds like an oxymoron or an annoying fortune cookie, right?
But hear me out.
We talk to companies all the time who have experienced success in the past and have now hit a plateau — or even worse, a backslide — and wonder what is going on? Their product or service is the same and their current customers give them only glowing feedback. What could they possibly be doing wrong?
Well, the root of the problem is only listening to the customers who brought you success in the first place. Let’s put it this way, we have all probably had a boss at some point in our lives who only surrounded himself with people who agreed with how he did things. He created a self-congratulatory bubble from which he smugly navigated the work place. At least for a while, right? These stories often don’t end well for the boss. Because let’s face it, not everyone thought he was doing a good job. It was his downfall. And the blind spot he created with his singular focus was avoidable. If only he had asked for, and listened to, honest feedback from people who didn’t agree with how he lead the team.
The same is true for your business. Once your company is established and you’ve had some success what could be more important that keeping your current customers happy? Listening to those that aren’t your customers yet — the ones that got away.
Organizations that stop listening to the market are beholden to their customers. They don’t look beyond what their current customers want and as a result they are likely overlooking opportunities.
Many of us know the case study of the disk drive industry, as made popular by Clayton Christensen in The Innovator’s Dilemma (a great book by the way). In a short timeframe companies that made 14-inch drives were driven out of business by companies that made 8-inch drives, and then companies that made the 8-inch drives were driven out of business by companies that made 5.25-inch drives. The new drives may have been more expensive and had less capacity than the 14-inch ones but people were willing to forgo some performance for the ease and convenience of using the new technology. In the end it’s what they now wanted. Focusing on how to make 14-inch drives better caused companies to miss the boat. Despite this cautionary tale, there continue to be countless examples of companies going out of business by ignoring their blindspot, including Kodak. You may know of companies in the same boat today.
Current customers are safe but focusing on them too much might mean overlooking gathering important feedback people who aren’t your customers. When you keep doing what you’ve been doing you are actually NOT doing what brought you success in the first place. It was your ability to ask the hard questions and listen to the answers that got you where you are now. So did your ability to reach for new possibilities. Are you still doing that?
Even if you aren’t listening people who aren’t your customers yet, someone else is listening. And if you don’t adjust your focus you risk becoming irrelevant. Avoid this with research and continued innovation. Innovation isn’t just an equation for success – it’s a mindset and an ongoing practice.
For more on listening to the market, check out Customer Discovery 101
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