Take Time to Gather Market Intelligence. You don't have to win by much...just win!
Anticipating where we should be and what we should be focusing on can be a very big advantage when it comes to, well, anything really but particularly in business...
A cue from Jonny Mac'
When I recall early childhood memories I recall especially John McEnroe's victory in the Wimbledon Tennis final of 1981. This ended the run of Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon (five successive titles) before that match in '81.
I watched it on a black and white portable television at the sports shop in which I was working on Saturdays while still at school. What I remember most was how much time McEnroe seemed to have. He always seemed to be where the ball was going to and thus used far less energy. He won the match 3 sets to 1 and started a period in which he pretty much dominated the sport for the next few years.
To ensure our long-term survival in business we must be where the market is going and, like John McEnroe in that great game, be there ahead of time (or at least in good time) instead of trying to play catch-up.
Indeed if we look at major business disasters over the last 20-30 years where totally dominant companies have gone out of businesses - most of them were failures to pick up or act on what the market was telling them.
So what do we do?
1) Make time to look...
First we need to engineer some time consistently in our weekly routine to be able to spend on market-facing activities. If we are constantly fire-fighting and knee-deep in operational issues we don't have the opportunity to look up above the forest and the trees and see what's happening. A weekly rhythm is the key.
2) Gather market intelligence.
Having made the time, many many feel stuck on what exactly they should do. The easiest way is simply to talk to your customers! Apple's former CEO Steve Jobs would regularly spend time on the customer support desk!
Here are two examples to help.
These guys sold contact lenses on line and wanted to get to a new level. They worked with a coach who encouraged them to talk to customers and get some feedback on their services.
After a few months they were ready to give up as they were hearing basically the same feedback during each conversation. Their coach encouraged them to trust in the process and stick with it. After 18 months they noticed a faint pattern.
Important sidebar...how many of us would have given up after a year and a half of hearing the same answers to our questions?
A small number of customers fed back that they were thrilled about the company's overnight delivery. The strange thing was that overnight delivery was not an option for customers. It simply didn't exist.
The company executives then asked themselves a key question "what if we could ship all our orders overnight?"
After a small pilot period they worked out how to do it then rolled it out country-wide. This secured their future for the next couple of years until Essilor bought them for US$ 325 million.
Looking back, CEO Roger Hardy explained that he and the leadership team could've spent a year or more hunkered down contemplating what they should do never discovered this opportunity. Getting out and talking to customers gave them the clue they needed.
Right from the outset of the company in the 1960s Sam Walton would ask his executives to be out of the office for most of the week gathering intelligence. (...that's why none of them had fancy offices!).
They would shop at competitors' stores, talk to their own customers and make notes on what they heard.
There was then the famous Saturday morning meeting when Sam would ask what had been learned. Then, over the next week, they'd work on implementing one or two ideas to help them improve. Not massive changes but just enough to keep them a little bit ahead.
Walmart is the world's largest company by revenue - over US$500 billion, according to Fortune Global 500 list in 2018 - as well as the largest private employer in the world with 2.2 million employees!!
A quote to end with...
Ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, nicknamed "The Great One", and widely recognised as the greatest hockey player ever, had neither statue, strength or speed, but he was famous for anticipating where the puck was going to be and executing the right move at the right time.
That's what we need to do for our businesses....and we don't need to be ahead by much to win big, and keep winning.
My very best,