Even the most successful companies can go out of business quickly.The speed of advancement in technology today, leaves no room for those who fail to innovate.
Case in point? Borders, the brick-and-mortar books and music retailer that was forced to shut its doors for good in 2011.
No, the company’s customers didn’t wake up one day and realize they no longer cared for literature or records. A major cause of Borders’ failure was the fact that company executives underestimated the importance of e-commerce and the internet. Unlike rival Barnes & Noble which built its own website, Borders outsourced the online sales of its merchandise to a company you may have heard of: Amazon.
Though the words were penned more than a half-century ago, the essay “Marketing Myopia” by Theodore Levitt remains impressively relevant today. In it, Levitt argues that every industry starts as a growth industry and that companies don’t go out of business because of changes in the markets, they go out of business due to a failure of management.
“Hollywood barely escaped being totally ravished by television,” Levitt writes. “Actually, all the established film companies went through drastic reorganizations. Some simply disappeared. All of them got into trouble not because of TV’s inroads but because of their own myopia. Hollywood defined its business incorrectly. It thought it was in the movie business when it was actually in the entertainment business.”
Similarly, Borders thought it was in the business of selling physical copies of books, music, and movies in the flesh just as customers were increasingly buying digitized products and doing their shopping online.
The Importance of Innovation
It is critical for businesses that wish to succeed to adopt the Japanese business philosophy of Kaizen, which speaks to the importance of continual innovation. Kaizen teaches us that no matter how good things are going, we can always do better. Today, Kaizen is baked into the foundation of many organizations that wish to be around for a long time.
Kaizen can be applied across an entire organization, and it can also be applied to individual departments. Salespeople, for example, can keep innovating, learning, and constantly seeking to become better at their jobs. They need to become thought leaders in their space, know their products inside and out, and understand their customers’ needs.
Do you know anyone in sales who seems to be able to close any and every deal? (Please refer). Salespeople who are successful for an extended period of time win because of their willingness to keep improving, learning, refining their pitch, and understanding theircustomers’ pain points.
Successful salespeople cannot rest on their laurels waiting for senior management to tell them what they’re supposed to do next. Rather, they proactively communicate what the industry is calling for and where it is heading. They make suggestions as to how products and services can be refined. And due to their successful track records, those suggestions are often put into practice because they have their fingers on the pulse of their industries—and have proven it.
In addition to helping shape strategy, top performers can influence key decision makers throughout the organization. They have the ability to bring people together across key functions, building consensus that enables their company to be successful over the long run.
Evolve or Die
A century ago, the railroads were the dominant mode of transportation in the United States. Ridership peaked during the World War II era—decades after Henry Ford started rolling Model T’s off his assembly line. Between 1926 and 1944, Ridership (or “passenger-miles”) increased from 32 billion to nearly 98 billion. However, ridership numbers plummeted to 15 billion by the year 2000.
Levitt argues that railroads didn’t go out of fashion because the mode of transportation was outdated. Rather, like Hollywood thought itself to be in the movie business, those in the railroad business thought themselves in the railroad industry—and not the transportation industry.
By not thinking outside the box and figuring out additional ways to transport passengers from Point A to Point B, railroad companies eventually saw their ridership numbers plummet substantially.
Don’t let your company be usurped by your respective television industry or automobile industry. Evolve or die. Think outside the box and look at the bigger picture. Immerse yourself in your respective industry, continue to refine your sales pitch and study the industry and world around you. Never forget Kaizen’s 1% rule – focus on improving everyday by just 1%. That’s it. Just 1% increase on the small things can add up to 365% increase in efficiency over a year. Your biggest ideas and innovations are yet to come.