So you're in a stagnant industry, or at least a very mature one. The buzz has left the building, and you're plodding along the road of status quo with your competition. Hey, at least you're all in this together, right?

All of a sudden, a sea change happens almost overnight. Customers no longer put up with the way things are for lack of better options. Whether it's a slight tweak to the business model, a simplification of a long-standing pain point, or just better communication to solve problems, one thing is clear: disruption is afoot in your industry.

Nothing jars an industry awake like innovation. Companies become obsolete, others complain about their disappearing market share, while others (the smart ones) recognize the signs of disruption early and embrace the rumbling change. When disruption happens, the dust never really settles. If you're aware of a few key disruption indicators, you can join the ranks yourself.

1. Know that the middle men are disappearing


Disintermediation - it's not just a word that gets you lots of Scrabble points. When you see companies in your industry that are creating shortcuts with their customer service, that's disruption in action. This could be anything from innovations that shorten the distribution or manufacturing cycle to processes that automate simple tasks within an organization.

In the on-demand, sharing economy, cutting out the middle man essentially cuts out entire jobs - even entire industries. Apps connect renters to apartments without the need for real estate agents. Glasses can be tried on, fitted and adjusted without a trip to a time sucking optometrist's office. You never have to go to a drug store to buy a razor ever again.

These companies and scores of others figured out that consumers are willing to pay for a quality experience dealing directly with manufacturers. Sometimes the simplest solution is the most disruptive.

2. Find a way to make the complex simple
 

If you make it your goal to disrupt an industry, then go and focus all your time and effort on crazy tactics and tech to try to get noticed, you'll never disrupt a thing. Companies that instead listen to consumers' pain points and focus their innovation on alleviating problems become natural disruptors by default.

Stagnant industries become stagnant because the companies within them wrongly assume that people will behave the same way forever, or change slowly. If your industry thinks this way, that's a surefire sign that disruption is around the corner.

Embracing a digital transformation is the most powerful way for innovators to eliminate consumer pain points. A company like Shelvspace completely disrupted the consumer packaged goods industry by addressing CPG brands' pain of relying on spreadsheets and distribution companies to get into stores. With one app, Shelvspace fundamentally changed the way that industry gets business done by offering digital promotions and simple goods exchanges that allow stores to buy products instantly.

It goes without saying that you should always be in conversation with your audience. Not only will you glean their pain points quickly, but they'll also inform you of disruptors within your industry that could prove to be up-and-coming competition. When you're talking to a customer in a feedback interview, and they mention Service X and the easy way it does Y in comparison to your offering, take note. There's a sign of disruption.

3. Make communication more transparent than ever
 

It's no longer good enough to offer a nice product or service while you stand in the corner and expect the product alone to do all the work for you. The social revolution has made relationship building just as important as product building for every industry. If companies in your sphere are connecting with customers in an authentic way, they've disrupted your industry.

Customers will not hesitate to put your company on blast in social media after any negative experience. And those less-than-chipper reviews reach twice as many ears as a positive story. But quickly and transparently rectifying a mistake in a customer's eyes is almost better than having everything go smoothly in the first place. 70 percent of customers would repeat their business with a company if they feel a complaint is resolved.

Social media, or just plain relationship building, matters - even if your current industry doesn't think so (yet).

Industries don't become stagnant because they fall behind the tech trend. In fact, blaming trends is a surefire way to earn a ticket to stagnant-town in the first place.

Industries and companies within them fail because they never learned how to connect with the people that really matter, in a way that goes beyond simple transaction-based relationships. Companies you would never expect to build brand love have innovated their way to success with the oldest disruption tool in the book - talking to people like real people, and listening to their concerns.

Published on: May 26, 2016