The Secret to Tomorrow’s Business is SAAS (and not how you might think): Speed, Agility, Authority, Sharing

New technologies are changing the ways in which we do almost everything in business: HR is learning to manage an extended workforce with ever-increasing customization; customer relationships and customer experiences are being personalized and scrutinized like never before; refashioned supply chains have removed much of the divide between distributors, manufacturers, suppliers and consumers. Each of these changes brings with it new demands and expectations, which have driven enormous evolution in the tools businesses use to communicate with and market to each other. It’s also driven fragmentation and stress in the C-suite—forcing companies to think about (or rethink) their digital strategy.

If your business saw the train coming and has already boarded, count yourselves in the smarter-than-your neighbor minority. If your company isn’t yet on the train, or is still on the fence, or doesn’t seem to know what a train is, there is no need for despair. The great thing about technology is that progress is continuous. The next train leaving the station will be a little bit faster than the last one. Even if you are late to arrive, the tools are in place to allow you to catch up. Think of your digital strategy as your train ticket.

Most people believe that a successful digital strategy is one that positions your organization to be able to respond to unplanned events – positive or negative – with speed, agility and authority. Doing so will open the door to new opportunities, and maximizing those opportunities will require that you have the right tools in the hands of the right people at the right time. I’m going to add an additional “S” to the end of that list, “Sharing”. If your business hasn’t found a way to contribute to the sharing economy, you might be in trouble.

Speed

The increased bandwidth of the digital age has greatly increased demand for quality content and has driven an incredible escalation in the pace of interaction, delivery and response, giving rise to the term “real time” marketing. With real time marketing, speed takes its place alongside content as an essential component of your deliverable.

Timeliness and reaction time have always mattered of course, but the window in which your performance will be measured has gotten progressively smaller. Way back in 1995, writing in Harvard Business Review, Regis McKenna saw opportunity within the noisy and challenging space that media was becoming:

For the producer, establishing a new brand is a herculean task. The noise level of the media is deafening, and it takes longer to break through and develop the market. Maintaining an existing brand isn’t much easier.
 
But there is an upside to the brand dilemma. Information technology, which brought about much of the complexity in today’s marketplace, can also become a tool for rebuilding the power of brands. Using current and emerging technologies, such as high-speed communications, computer networks, and advanced software programs, companies can start real-time dialogues with their customers and provide interactive services. Technology-facilitated conversation and service will allow companies to cut through the market chaos and establish binding relationships with their customers.

This was written a few years before social media kicked this whole process into hyperdrive. The speed and congestion McKenna was speaking to back then seem absolutely quaint by today’s measure.

Speed is about more than technology. It is about decisiveness, planning and clarity of vision. If the right people within your organization are empowered to make decisions and have the necessary knowledge to make the right ones, you’ll be well on your way to achieving speed.

Agility

Agility is the twin sister to speed. Agility is best demonstrated by reaction to unforeseen opportunities or challenges. We didn’t see it coming, we have no prepared response. The ability to adjust on the fly is agility. But that isn’t the only type of agility your organization needs.

One of the biggest challenges of today’s digital workplace is data flow and analysis. The development and coordination of your IT efforts with an eye toward effective processing, analysis and action on big data, will be a key element of business success. The deluge of information presented by our increasingly online marketplace is staggering. Identifying relevant information, contextualizing it in a way that makes it useful and acting on it in something approaching real time requires agility and stamina. Creating seamless connections between all aspects of your business operation, but particularly sales, marketing and IT, is an absolutely critical component of developing and maintaining agility.

Authority

Countless articles have been written in the last couple years about how content is the new creative. There is a little truth to that. If your company can deliver relevant information to your clients in ways that are engaging or entertaining, you’ll position yourself as an essential part of their success. We aren’t going to focus on content here, but it’s important to understand that if your content isn’t timely, valuable and compelling, everything else falls flat. You MUST be an authority in your space.

Sharing

The “sharing economy” has seen tremendous growth in the consumer marketplace, giving rise to successes like the Uber ridesharing service and the AirBnB lodging rental website.  Businesses in the B2B landscape have been slower to adapt the model, but the potential upside is huge. In the B2B landscape, sharing is about integration and on-demand resources and information.

Technology has simplified the integration of office systems, allowing formerly disconnected machines and databases to communicate in new ways. A simple example would be a real time connection between sales and warehouse, keeping stock numbers accurate moment by moment. The sharing doesn’t stop at your company’s walls, however. More and more businesses are integrating their operations with those of strategic partners: providing unprecedented transparency for quality streamlining processes, and reducing overhead by sharing assets while also increasing scope and scale.

B2B sharing means that every company doesn’t have to re-invent the wheel. Sharing resources allows businesses to stay focused on what they do best. By specializing in a portion of the operation and teaming with others with different strengths, businesses can increase their speed, agility and efficiency. Got resources you rarely use? There’s probably another business out there who could also use them. Need research you can’t afford? Find someone who has it and make a deal.

From data to office space to machinery to personnel, sharing encourages advancement through specialization, and allows businesses to move forward without over-extending.

Getting Started

Whether your company is just getting started or is already on the digital train, the answers to the following questions will aid in defining your path forward and help determine the sort of help you’ll need to reach your goals.

  • How does your business learn of real time opportunities? Do you believe there are opportunities to which you are currently oblivious?
  • What are the opportunities on which your business is currently capitalizing?
  • Are there known opportunities out there that you are not yet able to act on?
  • What are the real time challenges facing your company? How are they currently responded to and what is the typical time frame? What improvements could be made?
  • Does your company take advantage of advocacy marketing, content marketing or viral marketing? Do you use A/B testing? Dynamic pricing? Native advertising? Is there an opportunity to leverage Retargeting or Remarketing?
  • How are you leveraging “big data” to be more customer centric?
  • Are there resources within your organization that could be shared with others? Are there resources needed that someone else might share with you?
  • What motivates your organization? A company driven by external forces will be most responsive to the needs of its consumers. A company driven by internal forces will be limited by current capabilities and resistance to change. Does your company tend to be motivated more by inside or outside needs? Is this something that could change?

Most honest and clear-sighted companies will see obvious growth potential in their answers to these questions. But identifying opportunity and actually moving on it are two different things. If there are growth opportunities that your company is unable to take advantage of, explore what the barriers are and why they might be there for you and not for your competitors.

For a long time, size equaled strength in the business world. Companies grew, quite literally, by growing. Scale equaled influence, which equaled power – and more was better. That is no longer true. In today’s marketplace, speed and agility often trump size, and cooperation can sometimes best control. Take a page from a recent technology success story, the photo messaging service SnapChat. Launched in July 2011, within three years users were sending 700 million “snaps” every day. The SnapChat model is simple: users send images, videos, and/or text to a select group of recipients, and control how long the material will be able to be viewed (with a maximum of about 10 seconds). When time expires, the messages are deleted from the recipient’s phone as well as from the company’s servers. Snapchat was designed specifically to appeal to users who are concerned about the permanence of digital information.

While there are many factors that have contributed to their success, you can map part of the success to them staying true to our vision of the business SAAS model:

Speed – Fast and easy media creation are at Snapchat’s core.

Agility – Being able to respond in a world where we already feel like we’re moving too fast and providing too much information, SnapChat focuses on “the feeling the content brings to the user, and not what it looks like”.

Authority – At the center of everything SnapChat does, protecting the privacy of users content is at the heart. When you think social and privacy, you don’t think of Facebook.

Sharing – “Once a week, for about an hour, groups of 10 or so [snapchat] team members get together and talk about how they feel.” This is the heart of sharing.

How is your business or organization leveraging this new business approach and developing a digital strategy to be more customer centric?