Today organisations seem to pivot and change business models every year.
But does this tech-fuelled injection of pace make good sense in the long run? If done correctly, yes.
But ultimately, it’s up to the CEO to accurately execute a pivot strategy based on the right opportunity – no small feat. When done properly though, the evolution of a company will be perceived as a strategic success and brand-builder rather than a mad scramble for the “next big thing” as is often the case.
In my 20-plus years as a technology entrepreneur, I have seen many companies hop on bandwagons only to fall off, losing credibility and market share. Over that time, I’ve also experienced my own challenges in doing the same thing and have identified a few key points to pivoting that have allowed me to keep my company innovative and stable while addressing the right bandwagon.
1. Solve a big problem
Looking back, creating a new business to solve a problem was a simple task. It was solving a new problem with an existing business that was much more complicated since so much more was on the line.
The first step in building a pivot strategy is to identify a pain point in the market that you can relate to and solve. To do this, you need to stay in touch with what’s happening in your industry versus getting mired down in day-to-day executive duties. This ability to stay engaged in the present is a skill that serves most CEOs well but often gets lost as the business grows.
Every day we experience things we wish were a little bit different. If it’s a problem that directly impacts you, figure out how you would solve it. If it’s a unique solution, patent it. This first-person experience of the problem means you are not acting on a loosely based idea, but on an inner-belief that can potentially provide long-term sustainability for your business.
When I started my company, Absolute Software, we built patented technology to mitigate computer theft. 20 years later our model has evolved to focus on endpoint management and security for any device. This shift to manage and secure came only after significant research on my part that provided me with the insight to understand and ultimately improve the current management experience.
But I see many businesses that respond to market trends by going out on a whim and simply hoping to hit the mark. This is why year-over-year pivots by the likes of Yahoo! and others continue to confound me. A business shift should only happen if you have an interest in solving the problem your way.
2. Don’t forget your past
As you get ready to attack the next big problem don’t lose sight of what you do best – look back on your successes and identify the reasons behind the success. If you can solve the problem with a solution that integrates with your existing business, then you can leverage the work you’ve already done and cash-in on your hard earned and well-deserved reputation as a leader in that space.
In my case, 20 years ago we were a company focused on recovering stolen devices with a persistence module called Computrace because hardware was valued much more than it is today.
For me, the light went on to find a new use for Computrace during a conversation I had with a customer whose CFO had left a laptop with extremely sensitive data in the back of a taxi while travelling on business. The customer was distraught and explained how a single file on that stolen device could have a significant impact on their business. If we had continued to focus on theft recovery, ignoring the fact that data, not hardware, was becoming the item of value, Absolute would not be the size it is today.
Owing to that story and the insight it provided, we began devising a way for customers to use the persistence of Computrace to not only recover devices, but remove the data from a device under any circumstance. This ultimately led us to offer full-blown mobility management solutions that fit perfectly into the explosion of mobile adoption. And even now, after moving into persistent data protection and mobility management from our device recovery roots, we have moved into the IT service management space as our customers have increasingly indicated that mobility has rapidly supplanted nearly every established IT process in their businesses and made them vastly more complex to manage with just people.
But the lesson here is that these experiences got me to thinking about mobility, its effects on the incredible value of corporate data and how our existing products – designed to maintain a connection with a device regardless of user or location and manage them as tools – could provide more than simple tracking and recovery or protection to organisations experiencing the shift to smartphones and tablets. It all clicked into place and I knew that the foundation of our existing business could serve as the baseline for an expanded opportunity that would solve the problem of securing corporate data and, now, streamlining mobile-driven IT.
3. Listen to your customers
I know this sounds cliché, but it’s so important when you are about to pivot the business. Share your vision with the people you already help and they’ll tell you what they think based on their personal experiences. This doesn’t mean talking feature-sets and integrations. This is too narrow a scope and will probably deny you the greater benefit of your customers’ ideas. Keep the conversation abstract and listen to what they say and how. This will ensure your strategy evolution isn’t born in a vacuum, while at the same time strengthening your relationship with your customers. You might even stumble across another big idea.
I have learned to ask broad questions like:
- How are operations going?
- What are people in the trenches saying?
- What headaches do you experience on a daily basis?
- Who or what group is most vocal in the company and what about?
- Are you seeing people put together haphazard workarounds to problems right now?
One customer conversation based around those questions particularly stood out as I was evaluating a business model change. It was when a CEO brought an iPad to his IT manager and simply said “make it work on our network”. It was due in part to this story that I began to research IT asset management technology. Our customers consistently spoke to the surge of Apple, iOS, Android, and smartphone devices in their deployment and how they simply did not have a way to manage and secure them.
Based on these conversations I learned that most solutions were fairly narrow in scope and didn’t alleviate the headaches I was consistently being informed. With valuable feedback and an understanding of what was out there, I was able to see the real opportunity to shift my company. We went to market with a platform-agnostic asset management solution that is our fastest growing product line today.
To pivot your company successfully you need to be in touch with the issues affecting the market. This means research, customers, and business strategies. All of these data points will allow you to validate the problem and apply your insight to solve it.
Then you have to incorporate honest, third-party perspective from your customers. Be open. Ask them to poke holes in your idea, listen when they tell you what’s missing, and most importantly – understand why solving the problem matters to them. Even the best solution is meaningless if there is no pain.
Following these steps through my career has allowed me to position Absolute for sustainability and profit. And although they may not guarantee a successful business model shift, they will keep you focused on the right business instead of chasing the next big thing.
After all, hopping on the bandwagon is easy. It’s the hard fall off that can crack a business.
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