The use of the word ‘continuously’ is purposefully placed in the title of this blog article. Why? Because I fully believe that if a company does not continuously sharpen its competitive edge, it won’t be long before they do not have one in today’s ever-increasing pace.
I’m sure we can all think of examples of companies who have been market leaders and no longer exist or have had to sell assets and/or shrink in size to survive. Eastman Kodak is a prime example. Kodak began to struggle financially in the 1990s when digital camera technology hit the retail market. Only recently they have emerged from bankruptcy, after selling many of its patents to current giants including Google, Apple, Samsung, Microsoft.
Woolworths is another case in point. It used to be one of my favourite stores for spending my pocket-money. A few pence went a long way in Woolworths – a child’s paradise. Several months before they closed their retail outlets in the UK, I recall walking in and out of Woolworths, without having made a purchase. It was very clear that they were in trouble. Wilkingson’s and others had replaced them. I wondered then how they were going to stay in business; I’ve had the same thoughts over other retail brands who shall remain nameless.
I do find it interesting to see who’s winning and who’s losing market share in the retail industry which, of all industries, is quite brutal. Within that industry, I’m going to include hospitality. Even celebrity brands have suffered, namely Jamie Oliver. So what does it take to stay on top of your game? Here are my thoughts:
1) Moving forward
Never rest on the laurels of your current success. If you stay in the same place and keep doing the same things, along the lines of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, it could and most likely would cause the company to suffer greatly in the future. If you don’t, you could end up playing ‘catch-up’ like Sage once Xero arrived, or worse, you could be out of business.
2) Embrace change
It’s tough when you want to instigate change in your company and inevitably, someone will pipe up ‘but we’ve always done it this way’. Many people, including people in your team or elsewhere in the company, do not like change. Indeed, they are threatened by it. Unions thrive off people who might lose their job because of it. Look at all the social media pressure not to use self-checkout systems as it will cause a loss of jobs in supermarkets. Recognise that change requires enrolling people into the change, explaining the benefits, and reducing their fears by conducting open and safe discussions.
3) Train your sales team and/or account managers
Train your sales team. Create an incentivisation plan for building long term relationships beyond the initial sale process. Market intel is crucial for understanding new trends in the marketplace and your client’s are best placed to know what is going on. Ask them what they are happy with, what features they use, what they don’t use, what they would like to have instead, etc.
4) Market research
Market research comprises visiting trade shows, reading trade magazines, scanning social media platforms, subscribing to newsletters to discover new technology and to track your competition. Set up alerts in Google…
Never forget that disrupters could be working under the radar. If you are a technology led company, implementing patent and literature searches are imperative.
5) Investments in the sector
Linked to item 4) above, keep an eye on what angel investors are investing in, via angel forums, crowdfunding newsletters/platforms and networking events where companies pitch for investment. That’s at the seed level. But what about at the corporate level – who’s acquiring what and why? Where is the sector going?
6) Thought Leaders
Who are the thought leaders in the sector? Who is giving talks at conferences? What are they writing about? Do you subscribe to their blogs? Are you following them on twitter? Linkedin?
7) Focus on your clients
Xero’s strategy was to focus their innovation on the user-experience. Any company that focuses on their end-user market, listening and taking on board their likes and dislikes, has a good chance of carving their niche, even in a so-called ‘sewn-up’ market. Xero’s downfall will be if they lose sight of where the market is going, and/or stop listening, and become complacent.
Who would have thought several years ago that accountants’ roles would be under threat? With accounting software becoming more user-friendly, and smart, integrating machine-learning, artificial intelligence programmes, as well as the UK’s HMRC making tax digital, accountants won’t be as useful as they may have been. They will have to add a lot more value to their clients in order to hold and potentially grow their market-share, and sooner, rather than later.
Automation, AI, chatbots, etc. might be perceived as a threat (rather like the industrial revolution) or, could be perceived as an opportunity. Take ‘Tier 1’ service levels, for example: –
If you’re a bit of a technology geek which I believe I am, Tier 1 frustrates me no end. The level is typically that of following directions in a flowsheet. ‘Have you tried switching it off and on?’, ‘Did you try to reset your device?’, etc., etc. If the client answers ‘yes’ or ‘no’ the service provider moves on to the next question. Boring!
Do we really need humans to deliver tier 1 service? The answer is ‘no’ – it could be completely scripted. Even I could create a chatbot to do this and I wouldn’t even need to know any coding to do so. Automated chatbot technology has been available for years – but how many of us have experienced humans delivering tier 1 service over the phone or other platforms recently? I’m sure that too many of us.
But what if companies woke up to using the new technology that is readily available to them to save not only costs, but user-frustration. Tier 1 providers could be retrained to do other, more upskilled work. It would be better for their personal development, job satisfaction, and for the added-value that could be delivered to end-user clients.
I’m sure this article has left out other important points that I haven’t thought of – do feel free to add your comments to this article. I trust it has given you some ‘food for thought’ or inspired you to investigate how you can become more competitive, and how to stay competitive.
Honing your competitive edge is one of the areas we cover in our Twenty Twenty Insight business review process, where we provide a snapshot of the health of your business with suggestions on what you might do next to grow your business.