What business are we truly in?

In today’s constantly transforming digital landscape, particularly within telecommunications and internet services, it’s crucial to step back and reconsider: What business are we truly in?

Drawing inspiration from the insights of Theodore Levitt, a distinguished economist and Harvard Business School professor, we need to address potential myopia in our business approaches. Levitt’s paper, “Marketing Myopia”, published in the 1960s, offers critical perspectives that are astoundingly applicable in today’s industry scenarios.

Levitt was notably critical of companies that narrowly defined their businesses. For instance, he pointed out how the American railroad industry perceived itself as being strictly in the “railroad business” when they should have seen themselves in the broader “transportation business.” This limited viewpoint caused many rail companies to miss out on opportunities as transportation evolved with the advent of automobiles and aviation. They were so engrossed in rail that they failed to diversify into these new avenues, leading to a decline in their market dominance.

In another iconic observation, Levitt remarked, “People don’t want a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole.” This succinct statement underscores the essence of shifting from a product-centric to a customer-centric mindset. Instead of being fixated on the product itself (the drill), it’s crucial to discern the value or outcome these services render to the customer (the hole). Such a perspective ensures that companies remain relevant and valuable, focusing on solving real problems or fulfilling actual needs.

While it’s commendable to have a vast array of services, we must vigilantly avoid the pitfall of marketing myopia by concentrating solely on our offerings. Our primary objective should be facilitating efficient, secure, and smooth communication and data management for organisations and individuals. This means addressing our customers’ challenges and meeting their requirements rather than merely peddling our services.

There’s a danger in letting ego and self-deception cloud our vision. We need to proactively disrupt ourselves and adapt; otherwise, an external force will assuredly disrupt our status quo. Reflecting on history, several businesses experienced or are currently grappling with marketing myopia. Kodak, for instance, missed the digital camera revolution, allowing companies like Sony to dominate. Similarly, Nokia witnessed its market share plummet against Android and iOS.

Blockbuster, once the go-to for film rentals, failed to recognise the changing trends of media consumption, letting streaming services like Netflix offer a more convenient alternative. Blackberry dominated the early smartphone market but failed to innovate and keep pace with the intuitive interfaces of iOS and Android. Borders overlooked the digital revolution of books and paid the price when they lagged behind in the realm of e-books and online sales. Sears couldn’t compete with the rise of e-commerce and changing consumer preferences, leading to their downfall. Polaroid, despite their potential in the digital space, remained committed to instant film, leading to their decline.

In today’s competitive and rapidly changing business environment, particularly in the sphere of telecommunications, technology, and internet services, understanding and anticipating the needs of customers is paramount. As showcased by the examples mentioned, even titans in their industries can stumble if they become too narrow-minded or self-assured. The lessons from Levitt’s “Marketing Myopia” amplify the importance of self-reflection, adaptability, and understanding broader industry shifts.

Embracing a wider perspective isn’t merely a strategic move—it’s the bedrock of sustainable business philosophy. Especially in the telecommunications and technology sector, where rapid advancements are the norm, it’s essential to stay ahead, constantly gauging the industry landscape and decoding the ever-shifting desires and needs of the customer. This positions businesses to innovate in ways that not only meet but transcend customer expectations.

This commitment calls for vigilance and foresight. Merely reacting to changes won’t suffice; businesses need to be future-ready, anticipating shifts before they become evident. It demands a culture steeped in continuous learning, nimbleness, and above all, an unwavering dedication to understanding and enriching the customer experience.

Drawing it back to our core industry… Are we merely in the business of selling VoIP, Hosted PBX, UCaaS, CPaaS, SMS, Fibre, Wireless, Cyber Security, SD-WAN, Mobile Data APN, or Private Cloud hosting? Or, is our true purpose to deliver seamless, efficient, and secure communication and data platforms that strengthen both enterprises and individuals alike?

By anchoring our philosophy in the latter, we not only recognise the tangible products we offer but, more critically, the intangible value and solutions they bring to our clients. As the technological landscape keeps evolving, those who remain agile, discerning, and deeply committed to serving their customers’ true needs will undoubtedly be the vanguards of the future.

While embracing the teachings of Levitt is crucial, it is equally important to remember that adaptability and customer-centricity are not mere checkboxes but ongoing commitments. As the business world continues to evolve, those who remain agile, perceptive, and genuinely dedicated to serving their customers will be the ones to thrive and lead in the future.

Greg de Chasteauneuf, Chief Technology Officer at Saicom


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