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Digital Disruption – The New Normal For Business


When you are a casual observer, digital disruption can be exciting – after all, everyone loves a sexy new innovation right?

But that excitement only holds true if your business is the one with the potential to revolutionise an industry, or is one of the likely beneficiaries.

It’s an entirely different feeling when your business is at the frontline & under threat from the digital revolution. There are plenty of examples of businesses (even entire industries) being wiped out by the digital disruption they faced (& didn’t act on the threat until it was too late). Examples include:

  • Kodak – digital photography decimated their core market
  • Blockbuster Video – from dominance to bankruptcy in less than 5 years
  • Record Stores – Only a handful remain as digital downloads stormed the market

Then there are those industries that are still with us but are definitely fighting a losing battle. Such as:

  • Accountants – tax returns are now largely online & many other core services are under threat
  • Lawyers – conveyancing services are now online at far lower cost than before & we are seeing the start of advice portals emerging as serious competition to traditional law offices
  • Travel Agents – when was the last time you actually went to see a travel agent?
  • Media – newspapers, magazines, radio & television are all in their death throws as technological changes that have been on the horizon for years finally bite hard

There is no doubt that client attitudes are now being reshaped by technology. For those in the services industry – lawyers, accountants, financial advisors, banking, etc capturing a new audience & proving your relevance to existing ones are the biggest challenges on the list.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that your business or industry is “Immune” – it’s not. Just because you haven’t (as yet) felt the impact of disruption doesn’t mean you won’t.

Disruption is here to stay for quite some time to come, in fact it is the new “Normal” for business. The issue is not how to fight it – the issue is how to best deal with it. Here’s a few examples of what not to do:

  • Kodak created a digital camera in the late 1980’s but decided not to proceed with the technology because it could “Dilute” their core business of photographic film & paper
  • Blockbuster was approached by Netflix to form a joint distribution venture but Blockbuster refused because they didn’t need “Digital” distribution.
  • Music companies sued & sued & sued to “Stop” digital file sharing (until Apple showed them a way to profit from it).

So, how do you keep an operation alive when potential clients can shut down the relationship with a click of a button?

Here are six ideas on how deal with disruptors on your horizon:

  1. Understand your customers

One of the advantages of technology is that it has provided numerous avenues of communication that enable savvy businesses the opportunity to establish meaningful communication channels through which they can get a better understanding of what their customers really need.

This isn’t an exercise in just trying to sell more to them but a genuine effort to understand them, get to know them, build trust with them &, in so doing, making the relationship more important than a few clicks or a few dollars.

If you are not active on social media you’re already in trouble!

  1. Make sure you know your metrics

One of the major changes to the business landscape is in the way clients now find providers (especially in services related businesses), and this means local businesses need to get serious about tracking leads efficiently.

You can’t chase every single person on the internet, but with the right tools you can track who has considered you, and which parts of your website they’ve spent a decent amount of time on. From there, you can target people who are genuinely interested, through direct marketing messages – but only if you actually have the infrastructure in place.

These days, around half of your potential client base will decide not to take their business to you before they’ve even talked to you. This makes a sleek website not only a must for credibility, but critical for converting leads into paying customers.

You have to have information on all aspects of the interactions between the business & your customers, especially these:

  • Why do your customers deal with you?
  • Where do your new customers come from?
  • What is your USP (Unique Selling Proposition)?
  • Who are your real competitors?
  1. Make a list of what you’re good at – and cross out what everyone else can do

Too often, businesses think they can frame themselves as “different” from their peers and think they’ll be able to beat the disruptive trends, but this is difficult for those in fields like accounting, consulting and law, because many of the services provided are similar by nature.

There are two potential ways to stand out in the face of this reality;

  • Firstly, your business should differentiate between buzzwords and concrete differences. Evaluate your key points of “difference” and ask how many others can probably do the same thing. There’s no need to keep words like “quality” and “reliability” as selling points, because these days those elements are the basic requirements that all customers expect
  • Secondly, seriously consider a new specialisation of your service or offering, and invest in that process. This can be a challenge if you only have a couple of people in the business, but thinking about a deep dive into a certain type of law, financial advice or product bundle could make you a go-to destination in the long run.

Today’s business world is not about a “Mass” market but about “Masses” of markets. Select a profitable niche & go hard after that, become known for that. You can’t be the best at everything but you can be the best at something. That “Something” is what you need to focus on.

  1. You might not be able to change the industry – so change your culture

When there are few options to really differentiate the way you do business, the other option is to build a specific culture – one that you act out, rather than just talk about.

Build a distinct set of values in an industry that has similar practitioners, including using four actionable core values that guide everything you do. Make sure that your staff understand this & deliver on it – putting up signs that express this is not the same as staff actually doing it.

  1. Move quickly or disappear

Of all the things businesses can do to court danger with cut price or digital competitors, hesitation is among the top hazards.

The digital world moves fast & you have to be able to match that speed. You will only ever be as relevant to your customers as the pace by which you can move to meet their needs.

You can be on the right track but if you don’t move fast enough you will be run over either by a competitor or by your customer moving forward without you.

  1. Review Internal Processes

Don’t just focus on the external elements of this digital revolution. Be prepared to re-examine your own processes to make sure that they are capable of delivering what customers are looking for.

An example of this is the impacts of the availability of offshore labor at cheaper rates – for business functions such as; customer support, telephone help desks, administrative and data entry, etc – just make sure that any such changes will not be viewed negatively by your customers.

Technology is definitely a double edged sword for business – it poses both threat & opportunity. Threats tend be found in areas concerning customers & competitors as their use of technology alters their capacities & expectations. Opportunities are found in increased communication channels, reduction of costs & development of markets.

We live in changing times, who would have imagined a world just 10 years ago where;

  • The world’s largest accommodation provider owns no property (AirBnB)
  • The world’s fastest growing transportation provider owns no vehicles (Uber)
  • The world’s largest travel agent has no retail shopfronts (Expedia)
  • The world’s largest music distributor sells no CD’s or DVD’s (Itunes)

If you do not want your business to become just a memory you are going to have to think differently & act differently – fast!

Posted In: Business Disruptors

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