Watch Out: Denial Ahead

 This morning I woke up to a beautiful sunny day in mid April and I’m almost late for my first meeting. I didn’t sleep late. There was virtually no traffic  as local schools were closed and the kids were all sound asleep requiring no attention. What made me late you ask? I got an unpleasant surprise in the car, a frosted up windshield that needed scraping. My windshield should NOT look like this in mid April! What happened to Spring? Just four days ago it was 78 degrees.

And while I’d love to blame the wacky weather, the truth is I was in denial. This was the third day in a row that morning temperatures were freezing. I simply did not want to accept the facts. And those facts were slapping me right in the face every morning I got in my car.  It got me thinking. What else am I being blind to?

All of us have blind spots in our business. We trust what has happened in the past will happen again. Our team mates report the usual metrics and if we’re not careful we miss the obvious clues that things are changing. Being five minutes late for this meeting wouldn’t have been tragic, but what if we are in denial about changes in customer buyer behaviors? Or price sensitivity? Or maybe we miss a competitor changing the landscape of features considered commodity in our products?

We can’t stop ourselves from  having occasional blind spots, but we can put good practices in place to find them quickly. And the best part. Those practices are almost blindingly obvious!

1) Talk to sales. I don’t mean hold big meetings or send out surveys. Although there are times to do that. I mean sit down and have informal 1:1 conversations with some of your top performers. Go to coffee, grab lunch. Whatever you do make sure they drop their guard and just talk. Don’t forget to do the same with under performers. It is as important to figure out why they are doing poorly.

2) Visit customers. Really visit customers. Watch them use your product or service, but more importantly just talk. Don’t focus on what you do, focus on what they do. Look for new ways to help their business. Seek out what slows them down. Learn what new things are getting them excited whether it has to do with your business or not.

3) Take a real look at the competition. Daily news alerts and the occasional head to head sales battle make us feel like we are attuned to the competition. And while those are certainly good tools, too many of us stop there. Every quarter you should be doing a real analysis of what’s changing in the market. Who’s entering the space, who’s leaving and why. How has your competition’s messages evolved? Are their street prices moving? Has chatter about them increased? Decreased? What new capabilities have they launched. Don’t focus all your attention on how you beat them. Focus on where you lose to them, and where they are going.

None of this is hard. The hard part is really paying attention to small insights you glean through these processes. It’s tempting to ignore what we don’t want to hear, or to focus on what we already know. But just like my frosty windshield, the times they are changing whether we listen or not. It’s our job to accept change and adapt.

Tonight, I dig out my gloves just in case.