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Catch up to your market or be lost!

Markets and competitors change. Are you being left behind?

Over the years, I have often heard the complaint from CEO friends that they have become so swamped by the demands of their growing businesses that they feel themselves further and further from the center of their industry, no longer at the forefront of information and competitive development.

The risk of the daily routine

It is a real risk for the successful entrepreneur that the daily demands of business make it more and more difficult to know the pulse of the industry, which becomes more and more risky as decisions are made and resources allocated to projects or products that may no longer be as attractive as before. 

Big bets on old business plans

During the past several years, some very big bets have been made by large companies and well-healed entrepreneurs in old media, newspapers and TV stations.  Although newspapers have a window in which to reinvent themselves by providing electronic delivery and TV the same by recasting into more niche markets through division of digital channels into niche-serving slices, I doubt that these bets will prove profitable in the end, because of the overwhelming availability of free media using the web.  Were these companies and entrepreneurs out to a long lunch during the media transformation? Or do they know something all of us commoners do not?

How can you do something about it?

First, speak to your customers often. What has changed in their business behavior over the past several years?  How will that affect you?  Can you develop a product or service to meet these new expectations?

[Email readers, continue here…]   Second, attend the right industry trade show.  Yes, I know. You’ve done this so many times that there seems little to gain.  But next time try this.  When the exhibit hall is open, walk to the back and sides, where new exhibitors, young companies, small entrants find themselves.  See what new ideas they have that are unaffected by the norms of bigger competitors.  (As an early stage investor, this is the first place I head during a trade show.)  Then, attend a few of the most interesting sessions to find what’s new.  You’ll be refreshed and perhaps surprised.

Don’t let yourself become stale

Above all, don’t allow yourself to be comfortable in your daily routine at your desk, heads down in operational issues.  Look up for customer needs that change. Look out for other companies just starting to bite into your niche. Look away long enough to consider strategy rather than comfortable and normal operations.   Be ahead, not behind your industry thought leaders as they begin to execute their plans.

  • Thanks for reminding us of “the basics” that get too easy to ignore, with your great words of wisdom, Dave.

  • Michael O'Daniel

    CEOs and COOs who are too heads-down just tending to the day-to-day would be well advised to bring on a Knowledge Manager or a dedicated Industry Analyst, someone whose primary responsibility is to identify and evaluate trends not only in their specific industry, but other industries that may someday affect theirs. (Ideally your CMO should be doing this, but they too are too often heads-down or merely oblivious to what’s happening around them.) What you’re looking for is not merely a competitive scan, but a scan of companies that could someday become competitors as well as category creators / disrupters. And do not rely on reports from the analyst companies to give you the information you need ! Analysts are prone to groupthink; they’re often behind the curve instead of ahead of it; and they often provide incredibly bad advice. I worked at a company that had a perfectly good business but bet the farm on a direction the analysts insisted they needed to follow. Why that worked out as poorly as it did is a whole separate story.

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