Breaking Industry Habits: Challenging, but Not Impossible

Habits are tough to break. And when you’re in a well-established industry, processes often become habitual, and people fall down the “but we’ve always done it this way” hole.

But that doesn’t mean a thriving industry is immune to disruption. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that people who have spent lots of time in a particular industry are typically in the best position to spot holes in the market.

If you’re looking to shake things up in your space by innovating your business model to increase productivity and profitability, here are some steps you can take:

1. Start with your sales team.

Salespeople are often in the best position to gather and explain market intelligence. This team is the one on the front lines working with potential customers every day, so they can easily see what’s resonating with customers or what their pain points are. If they’re consistently seeing customers walk away at a particular point in the sales funnel, that naturally leads to a new problem to solve.

Recent research from McKinsey & Company suggests that among B2B companies in particular, there is “a marked apparent divergence between the core messages companies communicate about their brands and the characteristics their customers value most.” Your sales staff can determine your customers’ values right from the start of the brand-customer relationship.

Business leaders should be capitalizing on their sales staff’s knowledge by mining and analyzing their insights. Check in with sales staff on a regular, frequent basis, even hosting team-wide brainstorming sessions to gauge which problems could lead to future innovations.

2. Survey your clients.

Just as important as your prospective and new customers are the ones already on your side. And most are eager to share their qualms with anyone who can potentially save them time, spare them from inconvenience, or help them add value in a meaningful way.

Instead of running from their gripes and nitpicking about the way your business operates, embrace this feedback as a catalyst for change that can separate you from the competition. Remember, feedback is a gift! If you’re not consistently asking your customers what they think, you’re missing out on valuable insights that can drive your business forward.

3. Don’t ignore your competition.

After your customers, your competitors represent the most valuable source of insight freely available to you. If a competitor has developed a product that people are excited about, don’t just sit back and speculate -- get a close look at what they’re doing.

Use products and services that you and your competitors offer. Once you’ve identified differences (and any potential issues with your own business), look for the unique areas in which to innovate on what similar companies are doing. You could call this immersion research, and it will maximize your ability to solve problems in your market.

4. Live in the industry.

Living in your given industry helps you identify problems that may be much smaller but that are still important to overcome to be successful. Often these little problems are the most pervasive because they seem insignificant; companies and the customers they serve have put up with them for so long they’ve become a normal part of doing business.

Having a finger on the industry’s pulse helps you keep an eye out for signs that your business model -- or a competitor’s -- is becoming obsolete. It no longer takes decades for entire industries to change. Recent, obvious disruption in the transportation, entertainment, and vacation rental industries is just the tip of the iceberg.

As you’re looking at your sales team, customers, competitors, and investors, don’t forget to keep in mind your own ideas and vision for your company. Changing something so large often feels insurmountable, but you can resist the urge to walk away by focusing on hitting daily milestones. History has shown again and again that a patient, informed entrepreneur with a true vision has the capacity to disrupt an industry and become the leader in the space.