Tuesday, June 15, 2010

When Self-Image Gets In The Way Of Innovation

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

I’ve been thinking a bit more about Bert Jacobs lately, Chief Executive Optimist at Life is good®, and a post I wrote a month ago or so entitled Bring It To Your Customers. In that post I basically advocated the idea of taking your products and services to the location of your customers rather than requiring your customers always come to you.

Early in my professional career I worked for a major manufacturer of turf equipment – a successful company with a high-level image and leading brand. Customers included the best golf courses and resorts throughout the world. When I joined the company just out of grad school, I actually joined as a product manager in a small, almost entrepreneurial, upstart division that sold decidedly different equipment than the company’s more traditional offerings. It was a division created because of an acquisition. And rather than golf courses and resorts, our customers were the operators of landfills and compost sites. This particular business required that we figuratively and quite literally get our hands dirty.

What got me thinking again about Bring It To Your Customers was the difficulty I remember us having way back when in simply finding potential customers. We had difficulty bringing it to our customers because organizationally we didn’t know how or were perhaps a bit unwilling to bring it to these particular customers. Landfills and compost sites were inconsistent with the attitude and image the overall organization had of itself. It impeded I believe our ability to effectively identify and reach this audience. We actually developed a variety of interesting innovations for our equipment. But much of our potential audience never heard about them.

I remember telling my corporate colleagues and distributors (all of whom were reared in the company’s traditional businesses) that we needed to do everything we possibly could to find the rocks our potential customers were crawling out from under and be there to shake their hands. For being a small group essentially in a turnaround situation after an acquisition, I’d say we did fairly well to grow the business. We had much going against us though, not the least of which was our own corporate culture and the image of ourselves as an overall organization.

If the image your organization has of itself and the innovations you’re attempting to take to potential customers are not aligned with the customers themselves, you will not achieve the success you hope for. Divest of the business. That’s what we did.

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