Once upon a time, you had an idea … an idea to sell the best widgets the world has ever known. You had a couple of clients, and things seemed to be going well. At the request of those clients, you developed red-handled widgets, then blue-handled widgets, then a low cost model that took off like gang-busters. No one else sold a widget as inexpensive as yours.
But then the economy tanked, and your clients decided that they weren’t going to do that job that required the widgets anymore. Instead, they were going to outsource that to a company in China, where the widgets are even cheaper. You cut back your staff and focused on only the low-cost widgets, because that is where you’ve been doing the best sales; but now there are 2-3 competitors also selling low-cost widgets, and they have established relationships in all of your potential alternative markets. You look at your inventory of low-cost widgets and wonder: what should I do now?
There is a famous quote attributed to Theodore Levitt (author of Marketing Myopia, 1960):
“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”
The point is that, as soon as there is a better, faster or cheaper means to make those holes, people will stop buying the drills. Your success, then, lies in defining your business according to what the market wants, not what you want to make. In other words, if you are dedicated to making the holes, you can focus your attention on finding those newer, faster, better methods and bringing them to market, ensuring you stay top in your market. Sounds simple, I know; but the widget example above is all too common.
In his book The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni establishes that there are certain questions that a business should be able to answer in order to be successful, and one of those questions is: why does your business exist? On the surface, it is a very simple question, but in reality, it requires some business soul-searching. What it is really asking you is: if you had to change everything about your business except one thing, what would that one thing be? This (along with some of the other questions Mr. Lencioni asks) will clarify your sales, marketing and development priorities and establish what is truly negotiable and what is not.
The answer might surprise you.
Your reason for existing may have nothing to do with the widgets, but have everything to do with the people you work with, the market you work in or even the greater cause served by using the widgets. Knowing will give you the freedom to adapt and evolve your business and your sales and marketing strategies to thrive.
The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni is one of the first books I recommend you read. Buy it, borrow it, but give it a go and learn something very important about what drives your business.