As a partner in an innovation consultancy group, I am in the business of helping companies bring new products to market and refresh existing products to make them appealing to new markets.
I am also often invited into companies that are seeing stagnant or declining sales. What can we do, how long will it take, and how much will it cost are invariably the questions we are asked, and our clients are almost always surprised when we tell them the good news that the answer to the first question is probably sitting in a file cabinet, and the answers to questions two and three are equally in reach. It’s all in the fine-tuning and the willingness to reframe how to use existing resources.
Here are three ways you can move your business forward utilizing the expertise and skills you already have:
1. Learn from the past by synthesizing what you already know.
At my company Lucule, we do a deep dive into at least five years of any given client's consumer research to find the hidden nuggets that lead to new insights and new perspectives. Most companies use consumer research to answer a specific question, but they rarely put their findings into a larger context. Once that question has been answered, the research goes into a file somewhere, perhaps never to be looked at again. This is an incredible waste of a resource.
Make it your business to audit your company's consumer research and look for ways to link research results. You may find, as my clients do, that heretofore unnoticed but significant patterns emerge that will have a powerful, positive influence on subsequent product redevelopment.
2. Understand the difference between a trend and a cultural shift.
Trends are by definition ephemeral, so companies that rush to develop products based on current trends often fail because there is nothing new or better about their copycat item. But why a trend popped up in the first place is usually based on something much deeper, and could be an essential ingredient in keeping a business fresh and competitive.
We look at trends to figure out where they came from, what they mean, and where they could potentially end up. Such research will gives insight into the subcultures that foster trends and the communities that embrace or resist them, and helps pinpoint whether a specific new product idea has staying power.
3. Solve small problems ASAP.
I tell my clients that, contrary to conventional wisdom, it pays off to look for trouble. Pay attention to everything. Isolated sales slippage here, a failure of quality control there may not seem alarming, but take them seriously, as "small" issues are often indicators of larger existing and potential threats. Seize the opportunity to dig into the weakness and strengths of your business. Small changes eventually add up to a groundswell. Rudy Giuliani used this technique to reduce crime when he was mayor of New York City. Cleaning up subway graffiti and curtailing petty crime led the way to making New York a much safer place.
Getting in front of potential obstacles is not easy; it is something that I work hard at every day in my company. There’s lots of detailed good information available to coach you through the process. You can read more at McKinsey & Company, which provides guidance aimed specifically at retailers (and a lot of other excellent advice, too which applies to non-retailers like me). John Warrillow, founder of The Sellability Score advises owners about how to get their companies in shape for an eventual sale.