What business are you in? What business should you be in? Although simple in their inquisitive nature, it is amazing just how complex these two questions can be.

What business you are in should answer, from a historical perspective, where you have been most successful, where you have produced the most professional products and services, and where your team’s core competencies and expertise lie. Beyond those internal factors, the business you are in considers what the market has paid for and the value you have brought to the table.

What business you should be in is really what can be described as scanning the boundaries. By changing the tools and focus from certainty to risk, and from ambiguity to chaos, you elevate your perspective from lower risk and lower reward to higher risk and higher reward.

You must scan both internal and external influences in the short and long term, and focus narrowly on your products and services and the broader market category in which you play. But beyond the competitive and market intelligence often encapsulated in a typical strategic focus, in Strategic Relationship Planning, you must also include business intelligence, environmental scanning, and, to some level, social intelligence, the correlation between behaviors and relationships.

Said another way, the business you should be in is all about asking credible and trusted sources of strategic relationships the right questions. These sources could include current and prospective customers in an advisory board role, industry or functional insiders, and often ignored or underdeveloped cross-industry insights. You must learn from past interactions – what are your blind spots (what is happening now, best practices from other industries, and so forth) and who in your industry has a knack for identifying weak signals and early trends and acting on them ahead of the competition?

You must also examine present relationships – what important factors are you rationalizing away? What are perceived industry thought leaders and Mavericks saying and doing? What are your customers and strategic suppliers really thinking? How can you get to them at a deeper, more candid level regarding what is happening right now?

You also have to anticipate surprises that can hurt you and conversely, uncover what can really help you. Are there some emerging technologies that can help you change the game? Remember that there is a slight difference between incrementalism and innovation. Innovation is doing it differently. Incrementalism is doing it better. Some label incrementalism as continuous improvement and in many instances that works fine. Is there a model way of doing something that you haven’t explored because of whatever constraints you are under now? Competitive advantage is a highly fluid moving target and a consistent review of your critical assumptions about your fundamental strategic focus is critical to long-term success. Strategic relationships can provide the much needed independent perspective and perhaps unique insights on one’s strategic focus.

Let’s ask our first two questions again; What business are you in? What business should you be in? The process to get to the answers to these questions may be complex, but the benefit derived from this process can have a profound effect on your business!

 


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