Not long ago I wrote about a recurring question I was hearing from our clients: “With all the changes in the business environment these days, who is going to be my customer in five years?” Now the question is even more urgent: What about right now?As a corporate anthropologist, I continue to see possibilities for growth — those elusive new customers — that our clients don't seem to see. Often new customers are in plain sight but their brains just can’t them.They see what fits their mind map and perceptions. Not their fault but what can they do to open their minds to what is all around them?
Is that you?
How can you and your organization determine whom you will (hopefully) be selling to in this new year, much less the next five years? How will you find them? How will you have to change in order to attract them? And, how can you penetrate that future market with the right sales strategies, product lines and service solutions? As one CEO recently said to me, “It was easier to shrink my firm than to figure out how to grow it right now.”
Here are 5 easy-to-use anthropology tools to capture your future customer today
Now is the time to get your organization mobilized and exploring future possibilities before someone else captures the market. To help get you started, here are 5 things you can do that can jump-start your business strategic planning as you tackle how to reignite growth in your business — right now!
1. Demography is Destiny
I always like to begin here. If you haven't noticed, people under 40 today (Millennials) have grown up digital. They also represent almost 50% of the work force. You need to pay attention to them.
They approach life, their jobs, their families, homes, cars and communities differently than the Boomers or even the Generation X before them. They are different employees, value different things and go about their buyer's journey differently.
You need to hang out with some of them and better understand their styles, their unmet needs and what they want from your type of company — or maybe they don’t want anything. That in itself could be a problem brewing.
What does that mean for you? Well, if you're in real estate, it means a great deal. Millennials are postponing marriage and children, and are renting, often in urban areas, rather than buying in the suburbs like their parents. Not business as usual for realtors, forcing them to adjust to these changing times.
For your own business, take some time to hang out with your 30-something employee and see what they are doing, how they are doing it and how you can learn from them about your future customers. Hanging out is not hard and could open up your eyes to big ideas.
2. Speed to Market
In one of my workshops, a CEO told a story about a prospective client who wanted his company to build a building, but faster. At SAMC, we have had several clients whose customers also wanted them to build faster, deliver a product faster or design a new solution faster. At a recent workshop, the same theme emerged. How fast can you get me the specs? Increasingly, speed to market is becoming a major theme. What is interesting is that this CEO realized that his employees did not think they could build faster, but a competitor did. The competing company took on the job and delivered the desired results — and yes it really was faster. Is speed a competitive advantage that might bring in customers you have been pushing away? Are these your future customers — ones who want things “faster”? Check out this terrific article from Entrepreneur about three companies that are using speed as a competitive edge.
3. Who Aren't You Focused On?
A company in the office security business was frustrated by the competition in his market space — companies which were basically doing the same job the same way and for about the same pricing. When we were working with one of its staff members, this employee described several companies they weren’t doing work for: healthcare facilities, urgent care centers, mobile restaurants, day care centers and others who could use their approach to security solutions. When we asked him why he had chosen the company's current market segment, he said that he really hadn’t. It had chosen him, without much strategy attached. Maybe it is time for him, and you, to turn the tide and go after key markets rather than simply hope the phone rings with business.
How? One of the best ways is to spend a day listening to your customer service people answer incoming calls. Who are they saying "No, we don't do that" to...and why aren't you doing that? In my new book, "On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights," I have a story I share about Jim Riley and what he learned about unmet needs by listening to the incoming calls. His company, Laclede Chain, grew 40% by doing things people were asking for that previously it "didn't do."
4. Incremental Change Might Not Be Enough
Virtually every one of our clients speaks about how innovative their companies are. When pressed further, however, it is hard for them to tell us exactly what they have done that is really innovative. A lot of their innovations are merely incremental improvements, many of which add costs along with more features — and possibly more benefits. The question we always raise is whether value creation is enough to find that next customer segment that might not be using them today. If their products or services are that good, why aren’t they dominating their markets? Instead of "talking" innovation, start doing. Here's a start: Value Innovation.
5. Who is Searching For Your Solutions Today
At SAMC, we repeatedly find that companies often discount customer emails and inquiries — the "What If's" that inquirers are asking for that sales people ignore. One story I like to share is about an individual in a workshop who realized that the customer he was selling his patented foam insulation to kept asking about other products that he needed, those "what if's." Yet, the salesman and the sales manager kept ignoring him. That was where all the opportunity was, sitting there, awaiting their innovation.And don't forget about the internet. Future customers are calling, searching, emailing constantly…and yet all too often, people discount those inquiries or forget about them while they focus on today’s tasks. We had one customer who grew his company by 30% after sitting on his phones and listening to what people were asking for. He decided he could indeed provide it and was wondering why he had never done so in the past.
Might this be the perfect time to learn how to use some observational research — a little anthropology — to ignite change in your organization?