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Expert Advice for High-Growth Businesses

3 Keys to Winning Customers in a Disruptive World

“There is nothing permanent except change.” – Heraclitus

Heraclitus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who walked this earth and died in 475 B.C., at the ripe old age of 60. We talk about our modern time as if it is so unique and yet, some things remain the same. Here we are in 2018, a much different appearing world than the one Heraclitus would have recognized; however, his truth is still our truth in business today.

Like Heraclitus said, the one constant is things change. Customers change, competitors come and go, and products and services become obsolete as newer, improved versions are brought to market. But, it’s not as if everything “out there” is evolving while people remain static. We’ve also changed. Our needs, wants, desires, and expectations as a culture have evolved as technology has expanded the landscape of what is possible.

My current role is CEO of a global digital marketing agency, working in 170 countries. Are we growing? Yes. Am I sleeping? Not much. But, it’s a thrill to be expanding a global organization in what feels to be the Wild West. Scaling, funding, managing explosive growth, IT concerns, HR issues with up-skilling, GDP—the list goes on—are all things we’re charged to lead in order to take our organizations into the future. Am I pivoting my business strategy? Only if I want to keep my organization vibrant and alive for the future. I’m encouraging our use of technology to be better at the edge, for our customers, in real time.

Today’s business climate demands agility and the proper integration and implementation of technology if you want to remain relevant to your customers. Small- to medium-size businesses (SMBs) that fail to iterate on themselves will ultimately fail in the marketplace. There’s no room for “good enough” or getting comfy with our offering. Instead, we should be in a climate of “this is great, but what’s next?”

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It’s hard enough to keep the market share you currently claim. To win customers in a highly disruptive marketplace, it takes more than fresh ideas. It takes owning and executing on the following 3 keys to winning customers in a disruptive world:

1. Customer Obsession

Being customer obsessed means going beyond the often impotent, banal, and bland boardroom conversation of “customer centricity.” It means passionately and hungrily understanding your target market so intimately that you know what they need before they do. It’s the power of anticipation, of future casting, and iterating which keeps SMBs on the innovative cutting edge. True customer obsession shifts company-facing culture profoundly, but only if every corner of an organization is empowered to understand the customer’s “why.” There is nothing healthier for an organization than embracing customer obsession—throughout every department of the company. It fuels efficiency, productivity and innovation. To be customer obsessed means falling out of love with your own products and services and falling in-love with serving the people that your products and services ultimately impact.

2. Self-Disruption for Innovation and Growth

The biggest barrier to success in business is the inability to forecast the future. We all have our blind spots, and even some of the most brilliant minds in business have grossly missed the mark. Contemplate these quotes to give you pause and question your own firmly established, often unquestioned, rigid beliefs that might be holding you and your organization back:

  • “It’s kind of one more entrant into an already very busy space… But in terms of a sort of sea-changing for BlackBerry, I would think that’s overstating it,” said Jim Balsillie, RIM’s co-CEO, as he wrote off the iPhone
  • “Neither RedBox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition,” said Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes

Before we scoff, I say we all have the potential to miss the mark if we’re not careful to check our “already know” mindset at the door. Winning customers in such a disruptive world means we must question everything and everyone, including ourselves. Ultimate success comes when we realize we don’t really know anything for certain, and all we have are guesses and past learnings to lead us along a path that is rife with unexpected hurdles, barriers, and traps. If you’re leading an SMB, a group, or a department, today’s marketplace puts us smack dab in the ring of a business gauntlet that we must face and move through swiftly and adeptly. You and I are the trailblazers, the warriors, and gladiators of our business times. Ask yourself, “what outmoded or stuck ways of being/thinking might be holding me or my SMB back?” Apply some self-awareness and humility, and much will be revealed to you, thereby strengthening your leadership.

3. Creating a Powerful Ecosystem of Partners

I recently delivered a keynote at SXSW. One piece of my talk was quoted, retweeted, and shared liberally: “Small businesses can substantially gain competitive advantage, and scale rapidly through building a powerful ecosystem of partners.”

A strategic network of partners can help SMBs overcome limitations of internal resources to build out new solutions. Enterprise has already coalesced around this potent truth, and it’s time for the SMB market to wake-up to the power of pulling in greater opportunity and winning market share through strategical creation of an ecosystem of partners that enables them to scale bigger, better, and be more competitive than is achievable on their own.

It’s hard to compete with enterprise when the SMB budget is a fraction of that of a global enterprise. However, what can level the playing field is creating a powerful ecosystem of partners that enables the small business to function, and serve its customers as if it were a large enterprise. The phrase “we are better together than we are alone” was never more actualized than in the facilitation of an ecosystem of partners to work together to compete on a larger scale, and win the business through innovative thinking past “me and mine” to “we and ours.”

For more insights from Tamara McCleary, take a look at her customer experience tips to conquer 2018 and her recent article, 3 Things Leaders Must Realize for Business Success.

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