Patterns & Insights
Looking Ahead for Your Business
Do you apply a broad enough context with respect to your competitors and how you will differentiate your offers in the marketplace when constructing your business plans and goals for upcoming timeframe? Whether you are a new startup, an early growth stage company, or an established company seeking to evolve in a slump, you have an opportunity to consider alternative ways to project and plan for the future for your business. Challenging your plan (and your team) to consider proactively scenarios in which there is increased potential for future risks or the possibility of competitive disrupters, even if they seem distant, can yield benefits in how you think about the business and keep your edge.
Trajectory planning usually looks at your historical progress or that of a close competitor and applies a series of market attributes that either identify that the opportunity is picking up speed and exponentially growing, or that it has reached a leveling off plateau, or that it is cyclical in nature and has increasingly higher peaks and/or valleys.
But today’s environment is complex. There are many stories we have all heard or experienced first hand when significant market transitions occur, producing both spectacular successes and rapid declines of previously successful businesses when they do not adapt. There are countless well known stories that have played out – Kodak and digital photography, Nokia and the mobile technology market, Blackberry and the smart phone, and any more. And there are the current well known stories still in the making where platform businesses and the gig economy are disrupting nearly every industry – Uber & Lyft. And the countless stories where a gig economy and contingent labor are tackling nearly every type of work that exists – Takl and TaskRabbit for odd jobs, Shiftgig for hourly work, and so many more for nearly every type of work you can think of. The sharing economy has created well known AirBnB, up and coming Roomi, Lime Bikes, and Zipcars.
Should you be considering what a potential transition might mean to your business? Whether you are a giant company or the local bakery, the answer is unequivocally YES!
So start with asking yourself and challenging your team to think broadly about where the sources of competition may originate. Maintain an open mind and a healthy dose of paranoia as you consider what the next year to two years brings for your business. Make sure you view the opportunity from two sides of the table – yours looking out at the market, but more importantly, the market looking at you amongst alternatives. Of the many useful questions that I have found instrumental when challenging a leadership team during their planning process, these questions stand out. Although on so many fronts, these seem like the most fundamental of fundamental questions, it is surprising how often leadership teams cannot initially produce a clear answer. Other times, and the exploration of this is invaluable, there are multiple answers from different team members and very little alignment on those answers!
Key questions to kick off your planning process:
- Who, and I mean exactly which humans (not just business names), are target buyers for your ____________ <fill in the blank>?
- What do they (those humans) care about? What is the problem and pain point for them – very specifically for them as individuals – that your solutions address?
- What is a clear articulation of your unique and differentiated value proposition that is relevant to those humans in #1 and #2 above?
- Do you make your solution available in a form that meets the needs of your customers? Is your offer “whole” from the customers’ vantage point or does it require more that you are not providing (such as, training, support, unique packaging or purchase options?)
- Who are your competitors today? Who will your competitors possibly be next quarter? Next year?
- And this is a BIGGIE, often ignored … What are the barriers to entry that keep competitors from pursuing your best potential customers (the ones you came up with in #1 and #2 above) with a similar or better value proposition (as you noted in #3)?
Take the time once a quarter or twice a year at least, to go through an evaluation of your current strategy. Apply scenario thinking to the potential sources of disruption to the current trajectory of your business. I can confidently say that I have seen 100% of my clients gain valuable insight that informs their plans for a more successful upcoming term when they take the time to do this work.