A few years ago Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, was speaking at a conference. During the Q&A someone raised their hand and asked, “What do you think will change over the next ten years?”
Bezos replied, “I frequently get the question. And it is a very interesting question. It’s a very common one.” Then he pivoted and said, “I almost never get the question, ‘What’s not going to change in the next ten years?'” Bezos argued that what won’t change is where you build a business strategy.
What won’t change are the constants in your business. They’re the things that don’t change no matter how a market is disrupted. Uber, for instance, may have changed the way we hail a cab, but the constant is people need a convenient way to get around town.
In Amazon’s case, it has three constants. Amazon knows its customers want
- Lots of choice;
- Low prices; and
- Fast delivery.
No one has ever called Amazon and said, “Amazon, I love Amazon Prime. Next day delivery is the best. But would you slow it down a little?!” That will never happen, and Amazon knows it. This constant gives Amazon an opportunity to innovate. It can invest in drones, ride sharing programs, and bringing courier services in-house all in an attempt to accelerate delivery.
By innovating around the constant of fast delivery, Amazon is working to reinforce its competitive advantage and disrupt the retail market. Amazon knows if it can get you a package within an hour, then it could ship you produce. And if it can ship produce, it can compete with Walmart. That’s game changing, and has the potential to disrupt the retail landscape.
Constants are a powerful strategic tool during periods of rapid change. You may not be able to predict the future, but you can navigate with constants.
To find your constants examine your customer needs. Try a thought experiment, and imagine your industry got Ubered. An unforeseen competitor entered the market, and changes the rules for success. The customers are still there, but they are solving their needs with a new tool or technique.
If your industry got Ubered, what customer needs would remain constant?
Here’s an example. My previous business was a recruiting agency, and we got proverbially Ubered. Tools like LinkedIn and Google changed the ways hiring managers and job seekers connected, and this demonetized the industry. Recruiting is following a similar trajectory to travel agencies: LinkedIn is to Expedia.
Even if technology is changing the way companies find and hire job seekers, the need to hire is a constant. But don’t stop there. This constant can be further refined. Talent is a company’s biggest expense. Can you reduce the cost? Can you improve productivity? Can you improve retention?
Asking questions will help you to refine the constants. Amazon doesn’t just focus on delivery. It wants to make it faster. What is your company’s perspective on your industry’s constants?
Study your customers and their needs to discover the constants in your industry:
- What problems are customers trying to solve with your products or services?
- What aspects of your services delight your customers?
- What frustrates your customers?
- What do your customers want more of or less of?
Keep challenging yourself and your team on the constants. Are you discussing “real constants” or areas of your business that you do well?
If you find yourself listing constants like “customer service” or “relationships,” call bullshit. Those are self-serving constants related to your business model. What are the needs that will be constant for your customers no matter what changes in your industry?
The more carefully you define the constants that motivate your customers, the more you can focus your business strategy.