It never ceases to amaze me – businesses new and old, big and small seem to loose sight of why they are here. From the smallest and most humble beginnings, there was a really relevant and specific reason why every company was created. And for those that are successful, that purpose, that raison d’être was meaningful enough to make the connection with customers or companies and grow as a result. But all too often, businesses loose their way and drift from their original purpose. In this week’s post, I thought we could consider why they might loose their way, and what to do about it.
So why do companies loose their way? We are all only human, and that is part of the problem. Firstly, there is over-ambition. Whether we go too wide on our product offering (too many variants), try to spread ourselves across too many markets / segments, try to do too many things at once, or push out products before they are market ready, too much ambition distracts us from our purpose. This in turn can dilute our appeal to our target audience, or turn potential customers off entirely.
And things can also go wrong the other way – being inflexible about product-market fit (refusing to adapt to fit the customer), trying to control your sales channels too tightly or restrict your product marketing can have the same negative effect. This sometimes happens when a founder takes too much of a “purist” view around their invention, seeing the product’s perfection, over the customer’s need for such a product.
The other most obvious factor that leads businesses astray is lack of specific knowledge or skills. This might be due to scarcity of certain skills (particularly technical), lack of awareness for the need for certain resources (you don’t know what you don’t know) or lack of data. This hits even the most successful companies at times of great change and evolution. When you look to launch something new or completely different, you are working with restricted knowledge and data, and the unintentional gap can often cause a disconnect with your customers. So what can you do about it?
At Virgin, Richard Branson always got us thinking about “why we are here?” Put another way, “what injustice in the market place are we here to fix?” The best way to understand if / how far you have drifted from your purpose is to re-visit that purpose! Start by looking at the data you have at hand. Sales, retention, operational measures are a good start. Are there any warning signs or negative trends? Next, build in the customer view point – what are your customers tell you in feedback surveys, verbal & online communications or customer forums? The data patterns will give you a foundation to pull together a broader group of people to discuss what the data tells you, and agree what you might do about it.
It’s natural that your products and solutions strategy over time will change direction, but it’s equally important to step back from the detail and re-validate your purpose. That doesn’t just mean a monthly “voice of the customer” or sales pipeline review, it’s a genuinely strategic review of where you’ve been, where you are now and where you are heading to. In that way, you’ll be able to keep a healthy connection between your customers and why you are here.