We've all seen it, time and time again. Companies that are successful in spite of themselves.
Whether it was being first to market, landing in an industry niche, or securing a major contract with a Fortune 100 company, these organizations gained early wins and rode those successes for years or even decades. Well deserved, these companies initially grew by capitalizing on opportunities, good old-fashioned hard work and sacrifice.
As time passed, and leadership was handed down from grandparents to parents, and from parents to children. The experience and knowledge of "pulling the business up by the bootstraps" got lost in translation. Parents never experienced a company environment outside of the family business. Children lacked the original passion for the business as the grandparents had. The company matured, and using their grandparent's "original recipe," the business has continued to hum along on it's own momentum, but there's been a killer lurking in the shadows.
Advances in technology, globalization of markets and talent wars have all contributed to a new business landscape, where competition can come from left field and revenue growth can shrivel up overnight. Unlike prior decades, the pace and breadth of change has exponentially increased. While in the past, the biggest concern was losing business to overseas companies — now it can be the obsolescence of your market in its entirety.
The second or third generation companies that are stuck in their comfort zones will have a rude awakening coming.
Often unbeknownst, the silent killer that has worked its way into these companies is complacency. An acceptance of "this is the way we do things, and always have." A belief that we "already know everything we need to." A perception that "what we have done in the past worked then, and it should work now."
This will ultimately be the organization's downfall.
There are 10 core assumptions that will ensure the death of your company in the long-run, despite anything else:
1) I know my competitors. You might know the usual suspects, but what future competitors are you not considering? It's about where the industry is going as a whole, not solely what your direct competitors are doing today.
2) I know my customers. Again, you know your current customers. Examining new markets and new customer bases are the key to growth. Unless your target market is growing, you're just doing the merry-go-round with your competitors with the same customer base.
3) I don't need marketing, just more sales. Marketing preps the prospects for the sales force. Without marketing, you are simply extending the length of the sales cycle and making it a steeper, uphill climb for your reps to gain new customers.
4) Our collateral just needs a refresh. While your materials might be outdated, this is no silver bullet. Every sales tool needs a clear and distinct purpose. Examine your toolkit and determine the function of each piece, or whether you even need to have it at all.
5) Our prospects just don't get it. This is a question of why. If you're not effectively communicating what you do and why it's different, no amount of repetition is going to do it. Drop the disdain and figure out why it's not getting through.
6) Our only barrier to a sale is cost/price. If your offering is priced out of market, you're in the wrong market. If your offering is on the higher-end of the spectrum, your value proposition isn't resonating. Change your pricing structure or change your message/offering.
7) We have great customer service — we don't need to improve in that area. If you have a strength, why not capitalize on it? Take something that's great and make it even better. Use it to increase the gap between you and the competition.
8) We don't need to waste money on flashy technology. Technology investments shouldn't be about "keeping up with the jones's," but about how they can optimize processes, reduce costs, and differentiate the customer experience. Don't fear technology, as you can leverage it as a differentiator.
9) We just need to wait for the economy/market to turn up again. A "wait and see" approach might have worked in the past, but that's no guarantee it will work again. Entrepreneurs are always looking for new angles and ways to build and expand their business. Bring back that spirit to take control of your company's future.
10) We don't need to change what's not broken. Continuous improvement is inherent to successful organizations. They embrace change, not fear it. Once you believe something's perfect, and that "box has been checked," you've already relegated yourself to being satisfied with "good enough," providing competitors the opportunity to surpass you. Don't give them that window.
Success may come through serendipity, but it is sustained and grown through persistence, creativity, and a continued drive to grow. Once you become complacent, you become stagnant. Take time to challenge your own status quo. Assume you have all the answers, and you'll find the fate of your organization's future has already been sealed.
Andrea Olson, MSC, is a 4-time ADDY award-winner and founder/CEO of Prag’madik, a marketing and communications strategic consulting firm. With 20 years of direct, digital, social, technology and content marketing expertise, Ms. Olson helps industrial organizations exceed customer/client growth and cost-reduction expectations.