Businesses are often forced to be reactive.

They react to real-time shifts in direction, approach, solution-ing and preferences regardless of whether it aligns with pre-determined goals, objectives and outcomes. Many of these reactions are unplanned and committed to with good intentions.

However, reactive decisions mean businesses are unable to plan or strategise for the long-term,

Many businesses end up spending their time fighting fires created by their reaction, in some sort of chain effect of plugging holes, and filling in gaps. And that somehow does not solve the problem.

All the time, they are drifting further and further away from their original plan.

Unfortunately, over a sustained period, owners, leaders and management start to believe that short-term, reactive actions are the new normal.

Their collective decisions focus on survival and no longer on foundation, amplifiers or multipliers to their efforts.

This reactive thinking comes to cost the business more from not doing anything strategically long-term as they seek to merely survive.

There is a way out of this death spiral. That is to opt constantly and consistently to make the customer the foundation of all decisions. Regardless of whether it is a planned or reactive decision.

Focus on the customer as a guiding star.

strtgcommsgrp - make the customer your foundation

“Are we creating products and selling services that our customers want?”

We must be able to recognise our customer out of all the different types, categories, and shapes they can appear in.

A key concept is to gather data and information to build insights into both the customer base, and about the customer.

It is important to establish the consumption habits, patterns and channels that our customers are currently using. This can be seen in the time of day or frequency of accessing the channel. It can be the keywords or options that they are specifically asking for when browsing your website or app. Behaviours such as an increase in small purchase baskets, or an aggregation beyond the usual ticket spend can indicate changes in customer circumstances.

With these observations, it would be useful to create customer personas and map their new journey with both your brand and competitors.

While paying attention to competitors, it is not important (yet) to win them.

The idea is to find whether your industry is changing and seek to accommodate customer behaviour. There is little sense in winning a competitor if the customer base has left for other adjacent providers.

With customer personas and insights, it is time to refresh your brand’s narrative, positioning and messaging. This takes time and requires understanding the customer and your operations.

Does a change in customer behaviour require a change in access, delivery or fulfilment? If it does, that process has to be worked through together with the new positioning and key messages.

Once the new narrative is done, think through whether existing marketing channels are sufficient, or do new channels need to be evaluated?

Regardless of new or existing, the measurements and triggers for operations have to be checked and updated. This will make the brand more responsive to customers.

Finally, after a period spent experimenting and executing, pick the actions and behaviours that worked best, and scale them.

But. Here’s the more important consideration. Are you providing value to your customer?

Given the external environment, it’s highly tempting to want to be a one-stop hub for clients and customers.

It’s important to be clear about this approach.

If your business is about providing all areas for your customers, and this is the unique solution in your space, go right ahead.

Unfortunately for many other organisations, being everything to every customer will result in dilution of your core provision and make your offerings pretty much a copy of your competitors.

Your business goal is about committing to a space or a market, build a vision and approach before developing THE ability to meet the needs of that space such that customers will actively seek you out and pay a premium for your problem-solving capabilities.

How can you go about doing so?

Focus, focus and more focus. Work backwards. Identify the unique position that your business will occupy.

This is not about declaring market leadership.

Being ‘THE’ leader in your field is an aspiration. Being the only solution provider for a critical problem in your field is a position.

Here are some places your business can start with:

Find out where the unoccupied space in your field is. There will always be common, critical and urgent problems that are not being addressed, or not being solved well. Pick those problems and figure out if your business can solve them well. Own the process to solve the problems and work towards becoming recognised as the preferred solutions provider for this specific problem.

Don’t chase fads. Make the time to do research and identify whether your identified space and problem is just a short-term thing. This is the difference between working and solving for fads or trends. There will always be short-term problems floating about. Will these problems continue to be one, after 3 months, 6 months, or 1 year?

Some questions include: Where is the space evolving towards? What are the unmet needs by players in the space currently? Are there any competitive threats? What urgent, critical problems will players face in the next 6 months, and 3 years?

Talk to your clients and prospects. It’s a good habit anyway to stay close to your customers. Use the chats to obtain perspective and information about the space. Ask about the biggest problems they are working to solve, the value of a solution to these problems and whether the same problems will continue over the next 3 – 5 years. Engage intellectually and find out if there are problems that are deemed impossible but if taken care of, will change your customer’s business fundamentally. Make sure you find out what the value of such a solution will be to them.

Connect the dots and identify a problem that only your organisation can uniquely solve, and that is worth solving for. Pay attention to the problems, patterns and whether your customers are open to new or out-of-the-norm tools (including technologies) and if their industry or space will be impacted by emerging trends. If you come across the same problem repeatedly happening for many customers, and no one seems to be handling it adequately, you just might have your high-value problem and solution to work on.

Sidebar: Why do customers prefer you offer them a niche product/service vs. an integrated option?

Typical reasons to select a niche solution provider over an integrated one usually include the specific needs and priorities of the customer, the costs and benefits of the solution, and the level of customisation and flexibility a solution offers.

Niche solution providers tend to be able to provide the following benefits:

However, there are scenarios where an integrated solutions provider might be preferred over a niche provider:

There is also the element of size of your customer, and the customers that they are servicing that might determine whether they choose to work with your business.

If both provider and customer are of similar size, and target similar audiences, the relationship might evolve to become a partnership or collaboration instead.

Developing awareness of your brand and offerings as a competitive differentiation

strtgcommsgrp - disciplines to differentiation

There are three disciplines that can help a business differentiate themselves against their peers and competitors. These are leadership, operational excellence and being customer-first.

Most businesses try to spread themselves across all three; but the competitive advantage lies in being able to do any one of them extremely well.

Being customer-first might be the discipline that businesses have the most control over.

To dominate a niche – as part of a differentiation strategy – focus and positioning is as critical as offering specific outcomes that your customer finds valuable.

What are some steps a business can take to build this competitive differentiation?

Making the customer the foundation of business decisions is not about revenue or profit.

The brand can choose to be revenue or profit-oriented without sacrificing the customer’s preferences or seeking to provide them value.

By making decisions that focus on, provide the best value to, or are clearly about the customer is about future-proofing your business, as it evolves and adapts as your customers grow, scale or change. This is the best defence against competition, and also a great way to grow your business as well.  

strtgcommsgrp - revenue, profit, and customer value

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