When advancements aren’t accompanied by acceptance…

I was having dinner last night with the CEO of a major company in the automotive industry — I didn’t ask permission to use his name, so I won’t (however, I was VERY honored he brought me in to speak to the best customers of his company, representing hundreds of millions of dollars in sales) — when he said something that really got me thinking.

I asked him if he thought we would see driver-less cars in our lifetime.  His response:

“Oh, you’ll see the technology in just a couple of years.  What we may not see in our lifetime is the consumer acceptance of the technology.”

driverless-car-technology-googleThen, another startling admission from someone else at our table:  ”Which is why it’s so important that Google is involved.”  When I told him I didn’t understand his point, he replied, “People trust technology from Google or Apple a hell of a lot more than they’re trusting technology from, for example, GM right now.”

Let’s back up on that point for just a moment: If you study the financial services industry, you’ll find that banks had a very difficult time getting their customers to use ATMs in the early days.  People just did not trust that they could make a deposit or withdrawal from a machine.  They wanted to talk with a “real person” like they always had.

The potential is there for an airplane to fly itself — but, I wouldn’t board one.  For some reason, the pilot makes me infinitely more secure, especially as a somewhat fearful flyer — even though I read that most crashes are the result of “pilot error” — even to the point that sometimes accidents occur when the human erroneously overrides the technology and causes the tragic event.

The CEO told me that we will soon get to the point of semis being driven by the technology — with a “driver” on board much like a pilot supervising the automated controls.

Part of why this is so fascinating to me is that, to a significant degree, he told me that the technology already exists.  In other words, it’s not a problem with technological advancement — it’s with technological acceptance.

In any highly competitive marketplace, where many organizations attempt to differentiate themselves through increasing their technological advancements and features, this is HIGHLY instructive.  Here are some questions you may wish to consider:

  1. Are your efforts and resources better spent enhancing the TRUST and acceptance that your customers have in the technology you already have, rather than the development of new advancements?
  2. If customers trust someone else outside your industry rather than you (Google vs. GM, for example), why is that the case — and what can you do about it?
  3. An advancement not met with acceptance means little traction (or profitability) for your business. How can you leverage your existing advances better…so that you create distinction?

For example, I pointed out to the CEO that while a “driverless car” might not be an advance that basic consumers (like you and me) are eager to accept, protection against texting, drunk, and inattentive drivers IS.  

Just about everyone thinks they are a safe driver.  Taking decision making away from ME isn’t something that I am seeking.  However, ensuring that some idiot who is paying more attention to his cell phone than his driving doesn’t rear-end my family is something I am more predisposed to support.

It remains to be seen if the automotive industry will take from “Create Distinction” and Cornerstone #3 on how to communicate — however, you can consider these questions…and start positioning your existing advantages for greater acceptance…TODAY!

What’s the distinctive PURPOSE of your business?

My friend, Jeb Bell — follow him on Twitter at @gladspuck — forwarded an article from the New York Times’ “You’re the Boss” column that I found both fascinating and instructive on why so many professionals and their organizations fail to create distinction in their marketplace.

Titled, “How Can Jimmy Beans Wool Get Its Growth Back on Track?” the post examines an online yarn and fabric retailer with a brick-and-mortar store in Reno, Nevada named, obviously, Jimmy Beans Wool.  The article states, “Founded in 2002 by Laura and Doug Zander, the company began as a small storefront yarn shop and developed a loyal following online through its creative use of social media, most notably YouTube videos. From 2007 to 2012, sales grew organically at an annual rate of as much as 50 percent. They topped $7 million in 2013.”

  • Remember that for a moment:  by developing a “loyal following” through a focus on what made them distinctive, they were growing as much as 50% a year.  I’ve watched a couple of the YouTube videos — they’re homespun and tightly centered on information and insight to help people who knit, crochet, and loom.

Trouble was on the horizon, however, as the story from NYT continues: “About two years ago, Ms. Zander began to think bigger. ‘Everyone in the business community was saying we could be a $100 million business,’ she said. That became her goal. Toward that end, she implemented numerous growth strategies. But sales fell flat, and, in subsequent months, dropped further. The Zanders stopped taking salaries, started paying employees out of their personal savings account and rethought their growth plans.”

  • OK — analyze that last statement a bit more thoroughly: “Everyone in the business community was saying we could be a $100 million business,” Ms. Zander declares.  And, therein lies what I believe to be the problem.

The rest of the article has various consultants spouting the typical crap about what they think should be done next — from cost cutting ideas to expanding their number of retail locations.  Some of them, on the other hand, are quite insightful.

However, here is what I think is the central issue:  Somewhere along the way — after listening to those described as “everyone in the business community” — the PURPOSE of Jimmy Beans Wool moved from being “a distinctive company to serve knitters and crocheters” and turned into “we want to become a $100 million company.”

When the very PURPOSE of your business moves from “creating distinction (in part through the Ultimate Customer Experience ®)” into “becoming a company that sells $X worth of our stuff,” my bet is that you will achieve neither your financial goals nor marketplace distinction.

Can you become a $100 million company that sells yarn?  I don’t know.  However, my bet is for that to happen, you have to worry more about serving knitters than you do about the size of business that you want to become.

  • And, what was so wrong with organic growth of 50% per year?

What if you maintain that pace?  7 million becomes 10.5; which becomes 15.75; which becomes 23.625; which becomes 35.4375…get the picture?  Notice:  maintaining and enhancing her distinction moves the growth upward…however, the “growth strategies” that were employed have almost tanked her business.

If you’ve followed this blog, heard any of my speeches, or read my latest book, you already know that I strongly believe:  Creating distinction is THE business growth strategy.

Does it mean that Jimmy Beans Wool would’ve ended up a $100 million company?  No…it does NOT guarantee that.

But…wouldn’t you prefer to be the distinctive, highly-profitable, most-desirable resource in your marketplace — as opposed to a business where you can’t take a salary and have to pay your employees from your personal savings?

So…what’s the purpose of YOUR business?  And, what’s YOUR purpose in it?

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