GUEST POST from Geoffrey A. Moore
Downturns are wake-up calls. They ask us to sharpen our focus and be more disciplined in our allocation of resources. It’s a tough-love regimen that can make our enterprises more healthy as long as we commit to the program.
There are three ways to get a return on innovation, each fit for a different purpose, as follows:
Differentiation is key for acquiring new customers. Your goal is to overcome the inertia of the status quo, and to do so, you must make an offer that is sufficiently disruptive that a prospect will come over to your side. Slightly better doesn’t cut it. You need to focus on one vector of innovation that is lights-out superior and delivers a value proposition others cannot match. Then you need to marry your offering to a customer challenge that is sufficiently urgent and important to require immediate attention, downturn or not, creating a whole product that fulfills a compelling reason to buy. That in hand, you need to rotate your marketing and sales coverage to play most of your games on this chosen turf. None of this requires heroics, but all of it goes against whatever inertial momentum inside your own enterprise remains from a decade or more of leveraging economic tailwinds.
Neutralization is key to both defending, or even expanding, your customer base when a challenger throws their hat in the ring. They are making the disruptive offer, and your goal is to get to good enough, fast enough. This allows your customer base to reject the challenger offer, good as it may be, because in the greater scheme of things, with your other value add, plus your good-enough response, it is safer and more sensible to stick with you. The key here is speed. Innovation teams want to have the best offer in the market, but there is no time for that. It is a hard ask for them to prioritize good enough, but any delay leaves your core business exposed. On the other hand, if your offer really is good enough, your account teams can pitch a consolidation offering to the customer base which can replace one or more of their current point-product vendors via a suite offering from you. Done well, you can grow share of wallet share in a downturn, which is by far the most profitable path to take.
Optimization is key to maintaining viability in a downturn. Revenues are likely down, which means operating expenses must follow suit. This is particularly important in a period of rising interest rates where taking on additional debt is truly dangerous. Done well, optimization not only saves money and frees up resources to invest in differentiation or neutralization, but it also improves the customer experience by streamlining the processes that underpin the core of your business. The key is to combine the value disciplines of operational excellence and customer intimacy, focusing them on the processes that are unnecessarily slow, complex, or onerous. Again, the challenge is to overcome the lulling force of inertia. Change is never welcome, as there is a J-curve in every learning curve, and in a downturn, people are fearful of losing any ground even temporarily.
One Final Point
These three paths of innovation do not blend. Combining any two will dilute the impact of both. This leads to waste at a time when return on investment is crucial. You can run the playbooks in parallel, but you must not let them merge.
That’s what I think. What do you think?
Image Credit: Unsplash
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