Network TV’s lack of creativity and apparent inability to wisely navigate its ever-more complex competitive landscape serves as another perfect metaphor for the same conditions plaguing virtually all business sectors. We need to look no further than the recycling of old programs like the X-Files and Full(er) House or the threatened return of MacGyver and Xena to bear witness on the lack of fresh ideas to attract viewers. Unfortunately, prevailing risk-aversion has replaced meaningful strategy and ingenuity evidenced by generally weak corporate performance, defined by low growth rates at thin margins.
I recently spent several hours with senior staff from a top professional services firm that I have great respect for. They are building out a new service line that’s somewhat integrated into the core offering, but is a slight departure from what they’re best known for. While it may be a new business unit for them, there’s nothing new about the offering and while the practice certainly offers value, the targeted market mostly considers it a nice to have rather than essential. Just as a television network’s brand will attract a certain volume of interest, this firm’s brand name will surely open doors and the quality of professional staff plus their capabilities, will qualify them for opportunities. However, just as Kimmy Gibbler is the same character today as she was 20 years ago, a grown up or purported “new and improved” version isn’t nearly enough to stimulate business!
“Build it and they will come” is a most memorable line from a terrific movie, but it remains a most uninspired approach to business. Simply assembling a team of credentialed staff or offering comfort of familiarity–with past successes in similar situations, may qualify an organization to compete, but it offers no differentiation to win! Closing business is an active pursuit; writing proposals and waiting for the phone to ring is decidedly passive.
Companies in all industries are reporting lengthier sales cycles as well as fiercer price competition, yet fail to recognize this new normal is a reflection of their not providing the market compelling reasons to buy. Products and services that should not be treated as commodities are stuck in price competition hell as a result, with lengthier sales cycles as a function of marginal differences between competing firms. Rather than addressing these fundamental issues with seriously bold action, too many continue to double down with redundancy.
It’s fashionable to claim the world has changed and continues to evolve at rapid rates, making it difficult for companies to keep up. If this premise is true, then the very notion of returning to tried and true formulas makes little sense. Nobody can keep up with changes if they’re deeply rooted in the past, and the goal should be to get out ahead of and master changes anyhow! Leadership and building sustained high performance involves a certain degree of risk, a characteristic already in short supply that seems to be deteriorating. To reverse the downward trend start by looking up and ahead, rather than at the rearview mirror.