Our economy is in its sixth year of expansion, unemployment is at the lowest level since 2008, and the stock market has rallied from the dip last month. The recovering economy is tantalizing more business leaders with visions of growth. Successful leaders understand that opportunities are all around us and so pay close attention to the ideas of people in their everyday lives.
Here are five ways to raise your awareness of the creativity and knowledge around you to spark ideas for growth. We have found that the best opportunities come from one of the following five sources.
1. Your existing customers. After many years of being in China, Panasonic created a Customer Insight Team and visited the homes of Chinese customers who had bought their washing machines and refrigerators. The researchers found that refrigerators needed to be narrower and washing machines had to be front-loaded in order to fit the space available. Panasonic used this information to develop new products. As a result, Panasonic’s refrigerator sales increased ten-fold and washing machine market share increased from 3% to 15%.
This is the power of visiting customers, perhaps even spending a day there. Your company can learn how customers use your products and spot opportunities for offering improved value. Start by talking with customers to see if they have ideas for new services, products and potential markets. Then visit your customers, even spend the day on-site, if at all possible, right where your product is used.
2. Employees are an often overlooked source of ideas for opportunities but 3M has taken full advantage of employee creativity. The innovation of employees is embedded in its culture, encouraged by the company. In fact, a 3M employee created the post-it note, by mistake, I might add. Still, the product is on the market and bringing strong sales and profits – a testament to the culture of innovation, seeing and acting on growth opportunities.
Typically, we expect these ideas from marketing or from research & development, or product development. But, who talks to the folks in the IT department or on the production line for new product and service ideas? Employees care about the company, want to see it succeed, see what is really happening and often have good ideas for potential growth. So, take the time to talk to front-line employees, production employees, those just starting out – you don’t know where the best idea will come from. Find out where they see the opportunity – it may be the one you are looking for. Or, perhaps with some modification, it is an important idea that could propel your company’s growth forward.
3. Your internal and external situation. Nordstrom has built its success around customer service. Just try the outstanding Personal Shopping service. Nordstrom is clear that its key strength is customer service – and the company takes customer service to levels not seen in other department stores. Witness listening to a live pianist while shopping for shoes and much more. This from a simple, yet effectively performed, SWOT analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and strengths. Such an analysis can help you – take a close look at your company’s SWOT.
Similarly, a comprehensive analysis of your company’s environment can yield more ideas. For example, even a downturn holds opportunity – note all the cheap, reasonable quality, private label brands in the grocery store for paper towel, coffee and more. A PEST analysis consists of understanding and assessing political, economic, social and technological trends. It’s a good habit to review and update your PEST analysis each year.
4. Experts in the industry, such as Faith Popcorn, can see beyond the present to the future. Faith specializes in predicting future consumer trends and is consulted by many consumer packaged goods businesses. It’s important to tap the brains of the experts in your industry. They can often see what is needed and where the industry is headed. Just be sure you don’t launch a product ahead of its time – it won’t sell well.
5. Novices or babes in the woods. How did Starbucks revolutionize their industry? An English teacher, history teacher and writer brought the Italian-style coffee shop to Seattle. Good-bye cheap coffee, with orange walls spinning customers in order to sell huge quantities. Hello comfie chairs, good music, wireless, and high quality coffee with everything for sale and high prices to match. Definitely a profitable model that many have copied.
So, talk to the novices. The new employees, people outside the industry. They are the ones we don’t want to listen to. However, they are not blinkered by industry standards and mores. They see through the complexity to challenge assumptions and envision what is possible. Novices in your industry often bring experience from other industries – many of these models and ideas may work well in your industry. They can even transform it.
The five sources above are just scraping the surface. If you’d like to strategize about where to find growth opportunities for your business and how to go about that project, give us a call. We’d be happy to help.
Partners Creating Growth are business strategy, market research and financing experts with national and international capabilities. We offer business expertise worldwide to help organizations grow & disadvantaged regions thrive.
Photo credit: Adriano Aurelio Araujo