Doing ahead, not just thinking ahead

Quite often, I talk with business owners about thinking ahead.

Something that happened yesterday tells me that I need to change my terminology to “Doing ahead.”

Why the change?

Primarily, I’m concerned that small businesses are thinking ahead, but stopping there.

Thinking ahead discussions often include strategic thoughts of putting yourself out of business by inventing new products and services for your customers that replace your current top seller.

So let’s talk retail for a moment, since they’re an easy example.

Every time you enter a WalMart store (something I try to avoid – I’m just not into the crowds), you’re likely to see something different. Just a little thing here or there that’s different. Sometimes it’s a test to see how something works, other times it’s the result of such tests.

What you never see is exactly the same store, time after time, town after town. Sure, the overall store is quite similar overall but there’s almost always something different. Something being tested. Something being implemented.

This effort isn’t limited to their brick and mortar stores. WalMart and the rest of big retail spend a lot of time looking at how they can improve the performance of their online retail properties. They have lots on their todo list simply by comparing themselves to Amazon.com – which blows away most (if not all) online retailers in end to end performance and customer engagement.

This is the price they pay for ignoring Amazon during their climb to cruising altitude.

What we don’t see is massive shifts designed to make the store or parts of the store irrelevant. It doesn’t mean they aren’t there, but they’re much harder to see in a brick and mortar store. Honestly, I can’t think of the last time I saw a brick and mortar store do something like this but I suspect I just don’t recall it.

Amazon tweaks too

Naturally, Amazon.com is working hard to improve what they already do – testing and tweaking their retail site and their back end (such as the systems that email you about things you might be interested in). You can see evidence of this on a regular basis.

Meanwhile – they’re doing things like what you see in the video above (More video here from 60 Minutes).

This isn’t just about speed, though that is certainly part of it. Keep in mind that this also means that Amazon can deliver without using any of the established shipping systems – all of which have legislative limitations as complex as those currently preventing the use of shipping drones. The only difference is that no one wrote a pile of legislation in the 1920’s to protect the USPS, Fedex or UPS – all of whom are just as likely to have drones in their future.

Parts of this are not just changing the rules but eliminating them wholesale. I would expect this to be implemented in other countries long before it happens in the U.S., due to the legislative challenges here. We’re already well on the way to delivering relief supplies via drone. Why not retail?

Learning while looking ahead

Learn from seeing Amazon look years ahead without a guaranteed payoff, hitting on pain points, looking to shorten the sales cycle (money loves speed), looking to eliminate competitive disadvantages with WMT, looking to improve/control shipping, etc – while ignoring the fact that they can’t put the drones into service and prepare for the day when they can.

They’ll be learning new things about their business and their customers as well.

The challenge for you and for businesses all over the world is not to see another way that Amazon will eat your lunch, or to think you’re safe because you aren’t in retail, aren’t near an Amazon fulfillment center or are in a rural location unlikely to be served by drones.

Your challenge is to think beyond the advances you’ve been working on or considering. Those advances are important, but you also need to be figuring out things that are years off, all while considering what will replace them.

The dangerous thought is to ignore these things because they don’t threaten you now and wont for years.

Why is that so dangerous? Because that’s exactly what many in Amazon’s market did a decade or so ago – and they still haven’t caught up from making that mistake.

The hungry dog expects a bone

Pancho's Bones 02.09.09 [40]
Creative Commons License photo credit: timlewisnm

In almost every market, there’s someone who seemingly owns that market’s customers and prospects.

They’re the household name in that marketplace.

A common assumption is that they get so many customers that they may as well get them all.

To be sure, doing things that make you that household name is something I strongly encourage you to do. So what do you do if the market you want to enter already has a household name?

You’ve heard me suggest that you: Do more. Do it better. Do it more often. Do it differently.

The owner never has 100% of the market. If it’s a market you’re truly interested in, you need to figure out if there is enough left to make a business of it.

“Enough to make a business of it” has to last at least long enough to get a foothold so you can start to chip away at the leader and/or create new markets for what you do.

Can’t Get No…

For example, every single market includes customers who are dissatisfied.

They might not be that way because the market leader treated them poorly or failed to meet their expectations – though that’s certainly possible.

Every market has people who aren’t aware of the market “owner”, people who will intentionally choose someone other than the market leader just because that business is the leader, people who want something more/better/faster than what the leader does, people who want something different, people who have had a run in with the leader, and so on.

No matter what the reason is that you have them, the expectations thing is a big deal.

In the absence of someone setting expectations for them, people assume their personal expectations will be met – at whatever level they have them. Failing to set expectations almost guarantees dissatisfaction among some portion of the population you serve because their assumptions will be higher than yours.

Different levels are OK. Disappointment is not.

Because you’ll find different levels of expectations, you have an opportunity to create good, better, best, unbelievable, and rock-star class tiers of products and services. Still, your job is to set those expectations as appropriate so that even the lowest tier of service gets *at the very least* exactly what they expect.

How often do you get *exactly what you expect* from a business?

Think hard about that.

Now the hard question: How often do your customers get exactly what they expect from your business?

 

Warren Buffett to Josh: Read, read, read

Notturno
Creative Commons License photo credit: gualtiero

Today’s guest post is from Josh Whitford from over in Fargo, dere (hey, we’re both way up north here so I can say that dere).

Josh did a really smart and simple thing to get in touch with – and get advice from – Warren Buffett.

While it’s great to get advice from Mr. Buffett, the key thing here is not so much the specific task Josh was assigned but that he sought out the wisdom in the first place. Constant improvement is not a luxury, it’s a requirement.

Asking questions of those who know more than you (and/or know the success you want) is definitely a good strategy (ever hear of “Think and Grow Rich”?)

Speaking of, I’m on a quest to increase my reading to at a least a book a week this year. While it has impacted some other things negatively (at least from their perspective), I see positive results in my work, this blog (sometimes negative results – like far fewer posts), and life in general. Highly recommended.

And yes, I should be blogging about those weekly book adventures, shouldn’t I?