How to provoke a sea change

Seldom do I ask you to read extensive articles about large corporations. Usually, those corporations are the ones giving me blog post seedlings through their often inane behavior. 

Today is no different, but the behavior is.

Our guest post today comes from Wired Magazine, which talks about the impact of Ray Ozzie and his vision on processes and the future of Microsoft.

I’ll warn you right now. It’s a long article, but worth the time. 

There are a ton of takeaways from it, many of which are also advice or suggestions you’ve heard from me or read elsewhere. What’s important is that when influential parts of large companies like Microsoft start to realize the truth in these things, it’s hard not to ask who will be next. 

Perhaps your competition. 

On another level, it’s more provocational. 

Are you asking yourself and your staff tough, might-makeover-the-business questions?

Even if you’re afraid of the answers, you’d better be asking the questions every now and then.

Find and fight the fire before the customer does

In a recent email to senior Microsoft staff, Bill Gates had rather unflattering comments about a pre-release download and install process for Windows Moviemaker.

Every one of us can relate, right?

As for the message, Gates smiled and said, “There’s not a day that I don’t send a piece of e-mail … like that piece of e-mail. That’s my job.”

Exactly.

No matter how high up you are, one of your jobs is to find the problems before the customer does.

And yes, I’m sure someone will wonder aloud where he was on Microsoft Bob, or on Access 1.0, or on <whatever>. Perhaps it’s best to wonder what it would have been like otherwise:)

In the software business, we have a term called “eating our own dogfood”, which means using the software you sell to clients. Whenever possible, it’s a valuable effort because you look at things differently as an end user than as a programmer.

Eating your own dogfood can and should extend far beyond the software business.

No matter what line of work you’re in, you can find a way to…

  • Secret shop your store(s).
  • See that your friends and family have to deal with your business and your products, anonymously if at all possible.
  • Watch someone try to use your website, or listen as they call your business for help, to make a purchase, obtain service and get advice.

Find the forest fire smoldering inside your business before the client does.

Are you paying attention to your competition?

Earlier this week, the long-awaited Firefox 3 web browser shipped.

Last Wednesday, a cake from their competitor – the Microsoft Internet Explorer team – arrived at the headquarters of the Firefox development team to congratulate them for releasing their new version.

Obviously, someone at Microsoft is paying attention to their competition.

Do you?

I don’t mean to suggest that you should mimic their every move, becoming the Burger King to their McDonald’s.

On the other hand, watching them and the rest of your market is a necessary effort. And, as noted above, it’s ok to have a little fun with them once in a while.

Not long ago, we talked about how independent coffee shops could keep an eye on MyStarbucksIdea.com so that they know how consumers feel about Starbucks AND their competition.

How do you keep an eye on your competition? I’d be interested to hear about it.

Change that your business can believe in

In the midst of conversation about change (hard to avoid that word these days), the “kings” of business came to mind.

Names like Woolworth, Sears, Wal-Mart, Barnes and Noble. Technologies like fax, Palm Pilot, Walkman and Yahoo.

Barack Obama Nashua Rally 37
photo credit: No. Nein

No one could beat Woolworth … until Sears came along.

No one could possibly rival Sears … until K-Mart came along (and later…Wal-Mart).

No one could possibly rival Waldenbooks … until Barnes & Noble came along (and later, Amazon).

No one could break into the big three television networks and become the leader in their bread and butter – the news …until CNN came along (and later, Fox News and MSNBC).

Nothing could possibly rival the fax machine … until e-mail came along? And then RSS, Twitter and blogs.

Nothing could possibly rival the Palm Pilot … until Windows mobile Smartphones and the Blackberry came along.

Nothing could possibly rival the Walkman … until the iPod came along?

The music stores were indestructible, until Wal-Mart came along. Recently, iTunes replaced Wal-Mart at the top of retail music sales.

Yahoo, once the 500 lb gorilla in the internet world, is now garage sale material in the eyes of Microsoft and worse, Wall Street. One thing that is consistent about business is constant change. The power of the internet to force that change is even stronger.

But it isn’t just about big monster Fortune 500 and Inc 500 businesses. It happens in small business too. The long-time leader in the studio software business when I entered it was a DOS program… as late as 1998! A few years later, our software and others in the market had that owner moving into real estate sales. I’m sure you can look around in your market and tell similar stories.

Break the mold
photo credit: paper by design

When Wal-Mart started up, you can bet that Sears thought “Who do those guys think they are???” even though they had made Woolworth feel that way only a few decades earlier.

Rain Man was right about K-Mart, but it still took Wal-Mart to put them in their rightful place.

Do you think ABC/NBC/CBS felt they were unbeatable? Palm? Sony and their Walkman?

Complacency is a great weapon for an upstart newcomer. Complacency is dangerous, often deadly. Kmart is the role model for the “totally complacent, dont get it, have no clue” business.

Are you the big cheese in your business niche? Getting complacent, not adjusting to change (in fact, not PURSUING change) and (here it comes), not pursuing the slight edge CONSTANTLY is what keeps you out of trouble and forces your competition to constantly play catch up.

Yesterday, I was talking with a programmer friend about some new mobile technology. He said “My clients never asked me for that stuff.”

I told him it was his job to show his clients why they need to use the technology – if it really does offer them an edge.

If they have to ask for the new tool, it’s likely because a competitor is already there. Someone else is teaching clients about new tools in that market. That’s the player you want to be.

Dont play catch up. Be the lead dog with constant change, constant improvement and pursuit of the slight edge.

Microsoft’s “apology” to XBox owner, a good lesson

Ring of Death
photo credit: Spoon Monkey

As I’ve mentioned before, how you recover from a stumble is sometimes more indicative of a good business than the fact that you stumbled.

Today’s guest post is really just a news story about a now-happy guy whose treasured XBox360 had been ruined by someone who thought they were just being helpful, but there’s a great example to motivate you to take care of the clients you mess around.

Kudos to Microsoft for how they recovered from this stumble.

The next time you have to apologize to a client…think about this one. Valuable to that client, but not expensive in terms of hard dollars. Sometimes, a client just wants an apology.

No doubt, this is something that he will remember for a very long time.

Somoene, somewhere in Microsoft customer service went above and beyond in a very smart way.