More Dolphin-Inspired Thinking

You hold tremendous quantities of familiar, business-related information in your mind. Is there value to looking at it in a new way?

Let me summarize the story I told yesterday about a baby dolphin and a Nobel Prize-winner who split live human brains: fuel your business development by constantly taking in new information.

The way I should have also phrased it was: look at familiar information as though it were new. 

That’s sounding too abstract, so let’s take a concrete example of familiar business information: your competitors. Perhaps you already know the following:

  • How many competitors you have – both “loose” and “close”?
  • Which one or two of your competitors have the highest profile in your area of focus
  • Which of your competitors you have beaten for business – and which you have lost too?

When I co-owned a fundraising and marketing technology consulting firm from 2008 to 2017, my answers were:

  • About 35 loose competitors with similar and overlapping but not quite the same areas of focus
  • About 5 close competitors with very similar areas of focus
  • Jackson River had a higher profile than my firm
  • Probably 10 or 15 beat my firm for project work – and vice-versa 

That’s just scratching the surface of what I knew about my competitors. I usually knew the names of the principals and key employees, I knew where they had offices, I knew their marquee clients. I knew how weak or strong their content strategy was. I knew what conferences they had spoken at (pretty much all weak). And more.

Maybe you’re following a similar train of thought for your competitors. What else is there to know? Why beat this dead horse? Hold that thought. 

If you’re like me, you’re comparing. That’s essentially the core behavior associated with analyzing this set of key business information we call, “the competition”. 

A New Look at Our Competition

Rather than comparing, let’s look at this information a new way by (a) thinking of you and your competition as a unified group and (b) asking yourselves this question: what do none you do to grow our businesses?

Drill down on that question. Of all the businesses like yours – meaning you do the same kind of work for the same kinds of clients – what are activities associated with lead generation that you never engage in? Put a time-frame on it: the last decade.

(You know I like to my 5 to 10-year time frames – that’s why I wished you all a long-term Happy New Year.)

So my business, plus my loose and close competition – what did none of us do during the last decade to grow our businesses?

  • Cold-calling – didn’t even consider it (though sometimes buyers appreciate it if it’s done well)
  • Email outreach marketing. Considered it but actually did it? Nah.
  • Multi-year paid advertising on the major digital advertising platforms (Google and FB)
  • Explore paid digital advertising on any niche platforms, like Reddit
  • Create self-service, low-touch productized services
  • Design and execute a long-term content marketing strategy. Almost all of us did something here. There were plenty of decent efforts. But nothing spectacular. Like Basecamp’s 37 Signals. Or Drift’s blog.

There might be some outliers – Development Seed had terrific content marketing, but they used very focused re/positioning to morph from a world-class Drupal shop (a very strong market position in 2010) into a specialized mapping consultancy with almost no competition. Now they have competition but thanks to their content marketing, they are among the leaders world-wide in their niche.

I will also say, that many of us (more my competition) did lots of wonderful things to grow our businesses – started podcasts, created webinar series, held in-person workshops, created beautiful corporate websites, wrote email newsletters, spoke at conferences and camps, wrote books (rare but it happened), networked furiously, built niche products (like Jackson River’s Springboard), and more. Maybe even studied value pricing. So lots of good stuff was done. 

But for the most part, my competition and I – 30 or 40 firms and over 100 otherwise intelligent firm principles – were scared to call strangers, scared to write to strangers, scared to buy ads, and not disciplined enough to truly pursue a content strategy.

Take action. Hold these thoughts in your head or on paper: You and your competition, as one big group – list what did you not do to grow your business in the prior decade? I’m pretty sure your list looks like mine.

And for the decade coming up – any predictions on what:

  • What your competition will continue to not do grow their business?
  • What your competition will not do adapt their solutions (like Development Seed) to changing demands? 

Reply and lemme know what you think!