- The first and foremost is your employees. If you make it OK for them to tell you what they are seeing and hearing, good employees will be glad to do that… and provide potential solutions at the same time. They also have to be given the opportunity to have contact with people who are buying your products and services, so they can see what is really being experienced by the people who keep your doors open. Make sure every employee from top to bottom understands how critical it is to ask the questions, “Is this right?” and “Could this be done better?”
- Secondly, your customers. I’m always surprised at how many companies insulate themselves from the customer. They assume that their salespersons and distributors are giving them an accurate view of how customers feels and what they think. That is a deadly mistake. Distributors and salespersons are perhaps the least unbiased and most willing to see what they wish to see in a conversation with a customer. Just think about the last time your distributors and salespersons told you your prices were too high, when you know there are more expensive options out there. Find ways to use the resource of your customers. In fact, instead of a “human resources” department, which seems to minimize the value of employees, perhaps every company should institute a “customer resources” department that goes beyond market research or “customer insights” that only seem to prove management’s hypotheses and instead actually record customer experiences and how those customers are internalizing the implications of them. You might discover that your customers are trying to tell you something that you aren’t hearing.
- Thirdly, competitors. What people are buying from competitors and why they are buying those things is critically important to understanding your potential. Start by ignoring “price” as any kind of sales driver. It’s not why people buy. But rather understand what someone is buying from a competitor that they are not buying from you… and by that I mean the “experience” or “satisfaction” or “significance” they are buying, not just the “thing.” These are keys to what people are actually spending money on that may open the door to insights on a potential new future for you. For instance, when you discover that someone is buying from a competitor at a much higher price point, because they feel more secure about the company selling that product or service, you have a hint about what people really want to buy. You may discover that the reason they feel more secure is that the company has done a great job of portraying themselves as being the most knowledgable in that field in a way that you don’t.
- Finally, your brain. Your brain knows when it hears warning signals. Subtle things that you push aside, because you can’t explain them well, are often the early warnings of needed change. Yet I all too often see people ignore those warning signals, because they don’t wish to address them or are unsure of themselves. People who work with dogs know that dogs have the ability to sense very subtle indicators that convey important information about a person’s or other animal’s intent. Actually, people have much of that same ability… we just choose to ignore those signals because we can’t link them rationally. Start choosing to chase down those tiny indicators. Learn to ask someone a clarifying question, if there is anything they say that has any indication of deeper meaning or intent. This is by far the greatest tool in market research that is grossly under-utilized. But it is something that you and every one of your employees can begin to learn to use in order to spot small needed changes before they become catastrophic problems.
The real cost of not changing
OK, here’s the scenario: I’m meeting with a company that knows it needs a new future, because both what and how it sells are not going to work a year or two from now. They also know that some key people are no longer the right ones for the job. Their solution? Hire someone to make what they have right now work better.
This is where the old rule kicks in: “You can’t help someone overcome themselves.” Fear of change is perhaps the biggest hurdle for a company on the cusp of needing critical change. And the cost of avoiding or ignoring that need for change is often the loss of the entire business and all the influence that company once had in the lives of people.
Let’s face it. It is far easier for a successful company with a strong foreseeable future to ponder making critical changes, yet they are the ones who need it the least. It is the company that really needs change that resists it the most. It often avoids discussing minor indicators of needed change, because it is assumed that the issues will be solved on their own. That is one of the top reasons many companies that were successful for many years fail with seemingly unexpected speed.
What is the root cause? Typically, it is because they were unwilling to make the early decisions that would have made it unnecessary to make critical changes now. It’s like steering a vehicle - minor changes easily correct the course before a major correction would be needed. Need for critical change typically doesn’t come catastrophically. It creeps up in ways that could have been solved in small steps, if recognized as they were happening. Most companies don’t have the tools or even the will to see those small, creeping changes that were required.
To spot these needs early, a company needs to have a consistent means of spotting them. That means they have to be looking purposely for them and reacting early in ways that can be further adjusted as needed.
What tools would you need for that? Well, here’s a list of four tools you have readily available:
I think there is little sadder than a company that is walking boldly to its death. The company I met with is on that path. Don’t let your company follow them.
What kinds of tools do you use to spot those subtle indicators? How do you share those with each other to collaborate on possible solutions? I would love to hear your experiences.