Oct 9, 2012

Avoid the Obvious: Where Are Your Customers Going?

Walter Gretzky taught his son, “To skate where the puck is going, not where it’s been.” The advice may seem obvious, but it’s not. Watch a group of kids learning to play hockey and you’ll see them chasing the puck. Our natural reaction is to chase the obvious.

Walter Gretzky’s advice is universal. Set your business up to go where your customers are going, not where they’ve been. Let your competitors chase after the obvious.

Anticipate needs

Apple has an amazing skill of anticipating needs. They did it with the iPod and iTunes. Not only did they create a device to fit 1,000 songs in your pocket, they gave consumers an easy way to purchase the music they wanted. They did it again with the iPhone. They created an easy to use smartphone with a software ecosystem to let consumers do more with their devices. And then they did it again with the iPad. They offered a simple, touch device to consume content that previously required a laptop to access.

Apple is an anomaly. According to David Aaker, they are the only company to create three new categories in under a decade. Creating one new category is remarkable, doing it again and again is unheard of.

As much as Apple is an anomaly, they are a good company to model after. Rather than trying to compete where everyone else is, look for new opportunities. Anticipate your customers’ needs, and create products and services they may not have considered before.

Scoff at the tried and true

The obvious path to grow your business is to go where everyone else is. If there’s a lot of competition, you can easily assume there’s a lot of customers. But you don’t grow a remarkable business competing with everyone else.

Marc Benioff built Salesforce.com into one of the most successful software companies by committing to an ideal: cloud computing. But in 1999, when Salesforce.com was founded, cloud computing was just that, an ideal. It made sense on paper, but no one had built anything like it to scale.

Over the past decade Salesforce.com has grown into the dominant provider of CRM software, and displaced industry stalwarts like Siebel and Act!. And the company has continued to innovate and expand beyond CRM into a range of Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) solutions.

Benioff bucked the tried and true, and focused on where his customers were going.

Where are your customers going?

Discovering where your customers are going is not easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it. But that shouldn’t stop you.

What trends are influencing your industry?
Why do companies behave the way they do? Is there a better way?
What do your customers really need?

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