Companies start small, with a couple of people filled with passion over an idea, a service they can bring to market. Ideas wing across cyberspace with growing enthusiasm and anticipation for a finished product. They launch and the enthusiasm catches on like wildfire – customers love us! The business grows, hiring new people and adding new products and services. Then something happens: customers don’t like the new stuff or miss the old stuff, and employees have differing views on how to address the issue. The business flat lines and the founders wonder – What happened? What’s next?
Such is the well-trod path of the entrepreneur, either building their own startup company or building a new business within a larger corporation. It happened to me with the startups I built at HP: new employees brought in to manage our transformation into a “real” business introduced process that was counter to the customer experience we were delivering and as a result, our brand promise was diluted, opening the door to competitive threat. We lost touch with our customer, a common phenomenon with mid-sized businesses as detailed in our “Building the Experience Ecosystem” whitepaper.
There is hope, but it takes discipline – and perhaps some outside objective expertise - to navigate through this knothole. Two recent articles highlight considerations for businesses making this transition.
The first, “Eric Ries: 10 Classic Strategies For A Fast, User-Focused Company Reboot”, introduces potential pivots for companies can make when moving across the chasm on the classic product adoption curve from early adopters to mainstream. Choosing the right pivot is key, and understanding what your mainstream customers (and competitors) really need will ensure you make the right decision.
The second article, by Wolff Olins entitled, “Purpose Can Provide the Second Act”, encourages middle-aged businesses to return to their purpose, their passionate roots, to get them back on course. I believe this is the number one job of the leaders of company’s with growing pains – create that sense of purpose and use social business constructs to engage all their employees in delivering that value to their customer. One creative business built this sense of purpose by empowering their employees to post to their company blog, giving the company a small business persona and building loyal relationships with their customers.
Here is how to put all that good advice into action:
- Create a cultural manifesto highlighting your business purpose that focuses first and foremost on the benefits you are delivering to your customer. At HP, we would start our quarterly business reviews reassessing our manifesto and asking how well we were adhering to our values, adjusting if necessary.
- Culture is worthless on a set of slides – it needs to be discussed and put into action. Leaders should review the manifesto regularly with employees, highlighting how they can personally “walk the talk”. Social business tools are great for keeping this conversation going.
- With a renewed sense of purpose (pun intended), create one or more pivot point(s) for your business that propels you across the chasm to mainstream customers. At HP we took baby steps by segmenting our mainstream customers by demographics and looking at how close our current minimum viable product (MVP) was to meeting their requirements. Sometimes this yielded surprisingly distinct groups of customers; our go-to-market strategy needed a unique approach but the product stayed the same.
- Carefully review your progress to ensure your customers are on board, again a great place for social media or a mainstream lighthouse customer to test your marketing strategy before launch.
- To keep your early adopters engaged, get the next product or service in the pipeline – even if is only on paper - as soon as possible lest your competitors sneak up behind you and eat you for lunch. Other pivots may be the key to finding your next early adopter solution – different business models or partners could be better than new technologies or features.
Readers, what actions have you taken to propel your business across the chasm to mainstream without losing sight of your loyal early adopters?