How To Fail in Business Without Even Trying - Steve Satterwhite

“The world makes way for the man who knows where he is going”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

It my last video & blog, How to Daydream Your Way to Success, I told the story about how I took daily refuge in this Starbucks across the street from my office after we lost 60% of our business in 90 days.

I sat there every morning, with my pen, notebook, and imagination. Sipping my cappuccino. Pretending I was thriving. But, in reality, I was merely surviving!

Not too long after, as I was packing up my office (we were moving to a new location), I found a book under the pile of papers on the top corner of my desk.

It was The Discipline of Market Leaders by Michael Treacy, Fred Wiersema. A friend gave me that book. It had been sitting on my desk untouched for some time.

As I picked it up, the subtitle caught my eye:

Choose Your Customers, Narrow Your Focus, Dominate Your Market

I laughed out loud!

How could I even begin to think about choosing my customers, narrowing my focus and dominating my market when we had just been through hell? Besides, I’m not even sure I knew what our market was.

After all, we built our IT services business on the AFAB system—that is, we basically did “Anything For A Buck.” We did anything our clients asked us to do.

Need a network guru? No problem. Create a website for you? You bet. Build you an accounting system? Why not?

Yes, we were in the IT business. But, at that time, there wasn’t anything that made us unique. We grew up in the Dot Com Boom where demand was so high that it didn’t matter what you did in the IT consulting world. The rising tide was floating all the boats.

Then, in 2001, it all came crashing down. We survived. But, after the dust cleared, we needed to rebuild. But how?

The truth was that we didn’t really have a unique or strategic direction for the business back then. We didn’t have anything that distinguished us from the tens of thousands of other IT services companies out there.

I never thought about narrowing our focus to find something we could be great at, much less become a market leader. We were too busy growing the company at first.

But, this day, I opened up the book. And there it was. The title to Chapter 1:

How to Fail in Business Without Even Trying.

I laughed again. How ironic was that?

Especially after what we had just been through. And especially with my continuing nagging feelings of failure and lack of confidence. Maybe they wrote that chapter title with me in mind.

Now, I was intrigued.

As I started reading, I couldn’t put the book down. It spoke to me. The ideas resonated. And I started to get excited about our business and our future again.

Here’s the simplified thesis that the authors make:

A company can’t be all things to all people. But instead, a company must pick one, and only one, of three value disciplines to focus on. A value discipline that the company can master and dominate.

These value disciplines are:

  • Operational Excellence – companies that demonstrate low costs and focus on supply chain management (Example: Walmart)
  • Product Leadership – companies that create innovative products and focus on product lifecycle management (Example: Apple)
  • Customer Intimacy – companies that focus on and deliver superior customer experiences (Example: Nordstrom)

Treacy and Wiersema make the case that because of the management time and resources that are required, a firm can realistically choose only one of these three value disciplines in which to specialize.

But most companies fail to specialize in any of the three. As a result, they realize only mediocre or average levels of achievement in each area. They certainly never become market leaders.

Thus, if a company wanted to be a market leader, it had to choose its path—a path of Either/Or. That a company could be the low-cost leader OR a product innovator OR focused on customer satisfaction.

Not all three. Not even two out of the three. The company had to choose one.

And only one.

As I thought about this, I thought about our company in the context of the three value disciplines. The customer intimacy model really resonated.

Yeah, we were a technology services company. But we were also great at customer service. So, I decided right then and there that we were going to rebuild our business by maniacally focusing on phenomenal customer service.

Decision. Made.

Fast forward to today. We’re now one of the fastest growing IT companies in the US. We’ve delivered 10s of thousands of big-fat-juicy IT projects in the worlds most complex data centers.

Our customer satisfaction ratings are off the charts. Our people have never been happier. Employee Engagement and company culture has never been stronger.

Oh, and did I mention that revenues and profits have never been higher?

Bragging? Maybe. Proud? Hell yeah!  Coincidence? No.

More like a “duh!”.

Because everyone probably gets by now that hiring great people, delivering great customer service and growing revenues and profits are all inextricably linked together.

But how many companies actually get this right? Not many.

Once we made the choice, commitment and devotion to be the market leader in out-fricking-standing customer service, it all fell into place.

So, I have a question for you:

What’s your one thing?

What’s your value discipline? For you? Your career? Your personal brand? Your company? Your team?

What’s the one thing that you can do better than anyone or any company in the world? It’s there. It’s in you. We all have it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said,

“The world makes way for the man who knows where he is going”

I believe that.

Look, we all have a choice. We can all choose to live our lives and build our careers and businesses unconsciously. We can all choose to do AFAB—Anything For A Buck.

But it turns out that there’s a really high price to pay for this choice. I know. It cost me years of stress and strain trying to grow a company this way. Years I’ll never get back.

I believe we all have a truth. And we bring that truth to our work and our businesses.

So, we can also choose our truth. To choose to be authentic and real and courageous. To choose to BE and DO that one thing that we do better than anyone in the world.

I believe the world is waiting for us all to step into our truths.


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