More than ever before, people want to buy from, work for, and invest in companies that matter. Whether you are an entrepreneur starting a new business, or a corporate executive seeking to revitalize a mature business, the challenge is the same – to become the obvious choice within the hearts and minds of your customers, your employees, and your chosen communities.
It is no longer enough to just have a great product or service. Your company and team members have to be seen as going above and beyond to solve the problems of internal and external customers. How to do this right is illustrated well in a classic book, “Matter: Move Beyond the Competition, Create More Value, and Become the Obvious Choice,” by Peter Sheahan and Julie Williamson, PhD. I can paraphrase their eight key recommendations here as follows:
- First define where you uniquely can add the most customer value. This is your edge of disruption, where your courage, capabilities, and optimism allow you to bring more value to key customer problems than any other company. Prioritize likely industry change and disruption over the next five years, and structure your business to lead the way.
- Assemble the best team to assimilate and design what is needed. Your company can’t be a leader without establishing an elevated perspective, based on realistic market needs, and demonstrating an ability to execute. These insights must come from tapping the right people inside and outside your organization, with real customer interaction.
- Be known for your expertise by broadly sharing the message. Every customer is looking for provocative thought leaders, such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, who are able to challenge the status quo with alternatives of substantive value. The willingness to share what you know even with potential competitors is critical for credibility and visibility.
- Seek out only the best potential partners and customer leaders. For real influence, you need to elevate your customer and partner relationships, focus on high-potential ones that meet your point of maximum value, and say no to others. Be ruthlessly honest with yourself in building the right relationships and eliminating misaligned behaviors.
- Build trusted and open partner relationships, with aligned incentives. This is engaging like you mean it, which is the only way to create mutually beneficial joint solutions to challenging problems. Start with a market segment that you need to understand more deeply, and invest in the success of your joint customers.
- Connect with the bigger picture of the market and society. Companies that matter focus beyond the buy/sell transaction view of the world. They recognize and contribute to the interconnectedness of all moving parts of the market as it evolves in real life. It’s about relationships, communication, thought leadership, and social value contribution.
- Be the disruptor, rather than a reactor and hindrance to change. It takes a degree of courage and commitment to convert perspective and relationships into impact. It requires that you lean into complexity to proactively align people, processes, and systems to deliver on new opportunities, often at the expense of current and comfortable ones.
- Live the role of a company that cares, aspiring to be one that matters. It is important to do work that inspires others to follow, that makes a difference, and contributes to more than your bottom line. Companies that matter take a long-term view, are extremely ambitious and optimistic about their future, and value the future of their customers.
If your company consistently finds ways to add more value and drive higher-order customer outcomes, it will become the obvious choice in your targeted markets. In addition, it will attract the best talent, the most customer loyalty, and provide greater personal satisfaction to you, the entrepreneur.
Thus it doesn’t matter whether your business is a startup or a mature operation, since the principles that make the difference don’t change with size. In fact, these principles are best implemented during the initial formative period of the business, rather than wait to be driven by a painful business transformation later. Too many businesses never survive the transition.