Sleeping Partner Number 7: If it’s fun, it can’t be working
Our opening splash and the bit to the top right (that’s a technical web page author’s term) mention innovation. To be really effective this has to apply to both client and supplier. You, as a supplier have to introduce clients and customers to your innovations and demonstrate their value. These ‘new things’ may be physical products, inventions and developments, or they may be services, processes and methods. There has to be the age-old Feature-Advantage-Benefit associated with these innovations, and the hope is that you are introducing these at a more appropriate rate than your competitors. Note I didn’t say “faster”. Some target customers may have a natural limit on their capacity to absorb change. You have to carefully match your product renewal to their needs. I already suffer from this as a customer at a personal level. The rate of change of products, features (with questionable benefits!) and services in consumer electronics, especially communications, is breathtaking. I used to try to keep up with the changes in mobile phones, but I found my requirements had more or less plateaued while the industry kept innovating relentlessly. But then I realised “I’m no longer the customer”. It’s not people like me who provide the market for the phone companies. It’s a whole generation below me. And what they don’t know is that within a few years they’ll no longer be the market either, and so it goes. It was actually quite liberating to make that personal breakthrough.
But back to innovation. Why, if it can have the effect of driving customers away, should we say that innovation is necessary and good? Well, read back, dear reader, read back. What did I say a couple of articles back about deliberately losing customers? That’s one half of this particular story. Out with the old, and in with the new, mainly because the new have an attention span measured in yoctoseconds (off you go, look it up). And in this market innovation has become not a means to an end but almost an end in itself.
New can be scary for some customers or exciting for others. Your average industrial customer is likely to be a little more resistant to change than those consumer mayflies. If you’ve just installed a new process plant you expect 25-30 years of life minimum out of it, and you won’t rip it out and start again just because someone comes up with a shinier model a mere 6 or 7 years later. So innovation in this type of market may be a much slower process. Which can lead to other problems for those trying to introduce them. Indeed there are many examples of innovations which got swallowed up in the long acceptance process before they’d ever had a chance to mature, and finally got overtaken by other innovations themselves.
But sometimes the person with the biggest aversion to innovation is yourself. You spend a considerable part of your working life establishing an ability and credibility in your chosen area of expertise. You guard that jealously against your competitors, both internal and external. And you become known as the ‘hair care guy’ or the ‘widget woman’ (oh come on, I’m trying to avoid sexual stereotyping) and people come to you for these services or products. But what you must always be aware of is this encroaching feeling of comfort. Do not relax. Scare yourself every so often. Look at yourself as a competitor might. How should you change to wrong-foot them? If it’s all become a bit too easy for you, and you feel you can cope with what comes your way, is that because not enough is coming your way?
I’m not saying keep changing at the rate of the mobile phone companies, unless you have an appropriate customer base, but do keep examining your business and checking whether you need to tackle change yourself. We’re all good at advising others to do it (hey, what’s this article all about) but we can all be slightly wary at stepping outside our own comfort zone.
As someone once said “If it ain’t broke, you may as well break it yourself before someone comes along and breaks it for you”