Entrepreneurship today has become more volatile, ramping up competition more than ever before. Industries are changing rapidly, technology is advancing, and social and political change is affecting much of the way we do business. Long story short – tectonic plates are shifting. So, what does an entrepreneur or management team need to focus on to stay ahead of the game? We believe there are three distinct attributes that can set your company apart from the competition: Keep your customer experience as frictionless as possible, keep a close ear to developments within your industry, and begin to align yourself with emerging technologies as quickly as possible.
Keep Your Customer Experience as Frictionless as Possible
This is arguably one of the most important things any company (B2B or B2C) can do. The customer is the ultimate decision maker. With a wide selection of vendors to use in any given scenario, one of the best things you can do is to ensure that your customer experience is completely “frictionless.” How can you achieve this? Here are a couple pointers:
- Be a “Yes” Man – The first one is a no brainer, but important nonetheless. The real winners in business are all “Yes” men. That means that they will do whatever it takes to please their customer. If they’re not currently offering the product in the way the customer wants it, they still say YES, and figure out a way to get it done. A yes man bends over backward for their client, and always wins their business! Appease the client first and you will always win.
- Offer Multiple Forms and Mediums of Payment – Every client is different, and so it is important to offer multiple solutions (especially when it comes to payment) to accommodate each one of them. Checks, credit card, and wire should all be acceptable forms of payment. Additionally, it can be helpful to be able to take payment at ANY time, because in today’s environment business is done everywhere. A great way to cover your bases on this front is to ensure you have a system like Square. If you are unfamiliar, Square is a credit card processor that allows any business to accept credit cards with a simple plugin device to your smartphones. I would highly recommend this, especially if you are offering a B2C type product.
- Always Seek Automation – Automation is a customer’s saving grace because everybody is busy, and everyone has SOMEWHERE to be. So, the more ways you can find to automate your processes (requiring less work for the consumer), the more consumers you will ultimately gain and retain. This can be anything from a simple excel macro that runs calculations, to a unique customer friendly app. Ask yourself what operational tools or processes can be put into place that would make this experience easier, faster, and more enjoyable?
Keep a Close Ear to Developments in Your Industry
Being in the know of trends going on in your Industry is critical to success. Industries can change at a moment’s notice and the simple fact is this – those who adapt quickly stay in business, while those who keep playing the same game ultimately lose. Below are two great ways to stay up in the know:
- Industry Publications – Just about every industry has a publication/magazine. Do yourself a favor and subscribe to your publication. These are typically free to low cost and will give you a wealth of knowledge and insight into what is going on all around you. It is not only helpful to see what it is that your competitors are doing and find your niche for differentiation, but also to help your team continue to sound like the educated professionals they are when they get on the phone with a client.
- Good Ol’ YouTube – Second to industry publications is “good ole’ YouTube.” I believe YouTube is possibly one of the greatest untapped resources of all. A simple search in YouTube on your desired topic can give you hundreds, if not thousands of short relevant videos pertaining to your needs and desires. This may include industry trends and developments, interviews with top executives from competitor firms, management in action, and much more. It is a great resource with which to seek additional knowledge and model your teams after.
Align Yourself with Emerging Technologies as Quickly as Possible
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 5 years, you know that emerging technologies are changing the way we do business QUICKLY. Thus, for any company to have serious staying power and dominance in the market, they must align themselves with these technologies ASAP to maintain their relevance. There are many important technologies on the horizon, however, for the purposes of this article, we will focus on 3: IoT, Virtual Reality, and AI.
- IoT (Internet of Things) – IoT has been getting a lot of attention lately. Unless you haven’t heard, the internet of things is the convergence of everything “smart.” What began as a Smartphone and tablet, has now become intelligent refrigerators, intelligent gardens, and virtually any mundane object used in daily life poised to now become a “smart” device. Essentially, the end goal of IoT will look something like a world where everything you own and everything you do, is completely responsive to your preferences. It is a very cool technology. Many startups are now revolutionizing the world of IoT in business as well as personal lives, and it would be in the best interest of any business owner, in speaking with these companies in an effort to creatively integrate this technology into their products and services.
- Virtual Reality – This is another big one on the horizon. The buzz word “virtual reality” has been around for quite a while, however, it has only truly begun to solidify as a readily accessible technology within the past few years. While the Oculus Rift is prevalent in many “virtual video gaming” platforms, we believe the true beauty of this lies in its business applicability. VR is being used by medical professionals to enhance therapies and reduce the need for painkillers, being used for training simulation such as military combat, and much more. Futurists and experts believe that in just a few years, common websites will likely have a “VR presence” or virtual store. This will be another huge leap, and something most if not all companies will want to get onboard within maintaining and asserting their relevance.
- AI (Artificial Intelligence) – Yes, we’re all VERY familiar with AI from science fiction movies and prophecies over the past decades, however, we are finally in the stuff. Of course, I’m not talking yet about artificial general intelligence (AGI) or artificial superintelligence (ASI). These human-like “theoretically conscious” AI’s are still hard at work being developed, and could potentially arrive within the next 10-50 years, but not quite here yet. What I am talking about is the existence of narrow AI’s, or AI’s designed to actually learn one specialized and specific task. Examples of this would be the chess AI who beat the greatest chess player by playing itself thousands of times, IBM’s Watson who defeated the world champion Jeopardy players by reading and learning informational bits and pages all across the web. AI is now being integrated by many Silicon Valley startups into operational automation in the business environment and may be possibly the most powerful of all automation. If you are yet to start doing your research on AI, now would be a great time to get on the ground floor with integrating these programs into your everyday business activity and structures.
That about wraps up our pointers on tips for what you can do to get a strong “leg-up” on the competition. These techniques can be extremely powerful and put you miles ahead of the competition if executed correctly.
Jonathan Furman got his start through an advertising agency. He began in the production department and eventually worked his way up to managing a small team. Jonathan then decided to make a transfer over to sales, and over the course of a year, he built a book of business valued at north of $2.5MM/year in revenue. He was given the opportunity to manage a team on this end as well (combination of junior account executives and sales reps) in bringing in new business, monetizing existing business, and growing revenue streams to their full potential. Later, he left the agency to form his own company as a financial intermediary. He was helping small businesses attain necessary funding during hard times. More recently, Jonathan has founded his own management consulting firm A.K.A. Furman Transformation, igniting his true passion. He enjoys transforming all aspects of a company’s sales, marketing, and operational growth strategies, into the most powerful and polished version of themselves