In today’s business climate, we are experiencing more disruptions from non-conventional avenues than ever before. Yes, the long-standing ‘avenues’ are still around but in some industries, they have taken a back seat to a new wave of disruptions. The main disruptions that I am seeing relate to technology, the Internet and outsourcing.
In truth, more has changed in the past 3-4 years than in the past 15 years and if you haven’t seen it (yet), chances are it’s coming your way.
So, what does technology, the Internet and outsourcing really mean?
Many people in traditional industries have viewed technology as a cost centre and treated it as such – with the motto “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Unfortunately, that philosophy doesn’t cut it in today’s world. More and more customers are expecting their service providers to be utilising technology to serve them better. The reason is two-fold. Firstly, if their service provider is not providing extra value, then the customers will inevitably be asking, “What am I missing out on?” And secondly, although new technology might ‘cost’ the business to implement and then maintain, what is the cost to business if someone else uses technology to ‘do it better’ and the customers vote with their feet?
Everyone today sees the Internet as a source of information. When was the last time you didn’t turn to Google or Bing to help you find something? This same usefulness has helped customers ignore the traditional boundaries when looking for a supplier or a service provider. Buyers of any product are now more likely to have researched what’s on offer in the wider market before coming to you – and with that, they will also be a lot more educated come decision time.
This means you need to be sure you not only know your product and offer but also what your competitors are offering. There is an old saying that you need to keep friends close, and your competition even closer, and I cannot agree more. Businesses need to ensure that they understand why their customer may go to one of their competitors and if it’s because of price, will you compete?
In my experience, it’s not often the price that leans a decision. A lot of the time it’s the value proposition and Unique Selling Proposition (USP) that are the true deciders. With the power of the Internet, you need to make your offer about everything other than price. Because if you’re competing on price, then you only really have one way to win, and that’s to reduce your price and your margin which will devalue your brand. It also prompts a question – is that what you want to be known for; being the cheapest at something? In some vertical markets that might be OK, but in most it certainly isn’t. Although you will win some customers on price, these same customers will leave you as soon as you’re no longer the cheapest.
So how can you harness the Internet to your advantage, sell your USP, and sell it well? The simple answer is to make sure that everyone out there knows what you’re about and what you stand for. Make sure your values are unique, and more importantly make sure you whole organisation lives and breathes them. There is nothing worse than your customer losing respect for your company, as it will take a very long time, if ever, to re-establish that trust.
In today’s workforce, prospective staff want to know exactly what they are ‘getting themselves into’. Also, once employed, they’ll have no issue letting you know if what they’re being asked to do is outside of the thing they signed up to do. Industry awards and unions put companies under additional pressure to look at alternatives to full-time or even part-time staff. The other (often forgotten) part of the employment equation is the ongoing cost of keeping staff trained and at the forefront of what they do.
This leads me to outsourcing. Outsourcing in small to medium sized businesses is not only common; it can be a great win-win for both parties. You get quality skilled people to do the work you require and you don’t need to worry about paying for all the overheads and administrative components of keeping staff on your books. Although most small businesses are horrified at the hourly rates of such services, when you consider the skills, expertise and experience they bring to your organisation, the total value far outweighs the hourly charges.
There is also one more component of outsourcing that Australians can no longer ignore, and that is outsourcing to offshore specialists. Australia is in an unfortunate position when it comes to employment. We all want to have nice things, but few ar willing to pay for the high cost of services to make this happen. You see it all the time in the media; that our big retailers ‘are ripping off Australians’. But of course, there’s always more to the story.
Yes, you can buy a pair of jeans in the USA for half of what we pay at a local retailer, but there are two major reasons for this. The first is the cost of labour. In the USA, the average disposable household income is lower, as is the average cost of living. The other part is that the market in the USA is about 15x the size of Australia, so there is always going to be a component of the cost be related to our smaller market, and hence ‘buying in bulk’ in Australia is minuscule when compared to the USA. So with this in mind, there is no surprise that many Australian companies opt to outsource some of their functions to people overseas.
The fact is, these new forces are only becoming more forceful. Historically, Australia has been detached from the meccas of the European and American markets, however, with the advent of the Internet, the landscape is changing very rapidly. There is really only one reason why organisations decide to offshore, and that’s perceived cost. If you were to ask those same decision makers how they feel when they’re a customer dealing with an offshore service – their experience would often be less than ideal. Although most organisations hide the dissatisfaction their customers experience with offshoring, they will keep coming back to the financial benefit it delivers to stakeholders.
When people ask what’s changing business more – technology or the Internet, it’s sort of like asking whether the chicken or the egg came first. The internet has not only improved the methods and speed in which we receive our communication, but it has spurred on technology and innovation – much of which could not be possible without the Internet speeds we enjoy today.
Just as it has been for the past century, business decision-makers need to ensure they are adapting to the climate around them. In an ever changing landscape, the key is not to become stuck in your ways but to stay agile and dynamic.