Serve Your Customers, but Make Sure to Serve the Market

April 17, 2013

Wayne Gretsky – nicknamed The Great One – has been called the greatest hockey player ever. (With a nickname like that, would you expect anything different?) Gretsky became great because of his highly developed understanding of the game and his ability to read the game as it unfolded. Gretsky always strove to, "skate where the puck is going, not where it's been."

The same applies to bringing a product or service to the market; and to do so you need to listen to the market as whole, reading where it will be. And keep in mind that your assumptions about the market could very well be wrong. Even experts get things wrong.

Consider the following expert opinions:

“This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” – Western Union internal memo, 1876.

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" – H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”. – Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home”. – Ken Olson (President of Digital Equipment Corporation) at the Convention of the World Future Society in Boston in 1977

Listening to the market as a whole requires that you step back from your day-to-day dealings with individual customers to assess the larger picture. Compare and contrast your immediate dealings with a customer with your broader dealings with other customers and industry research.

Does a particular customer have a have a limited view of the world based on their immediate concerns, or are they a leading indicator of change? Do they have their own ideas about what you can and can’t do for them based on their assumptions about you? (And do you need to work on changing those assumptions?)

Serving a customer can generate some immediate revenue, but determining how to profitably serve a market creates a sustainable business. Cast a wide net and keep your ear tuned to unmet needs and motivations of the larger world. And be prepared to let go of your assumptions.

As I start down a new path with my own agile coaching and training company, this is what I intend to do. Recent surveys indicate that agile is not only here to stay, its adoption is increasing – and with that adoption there should be some great opportunities.


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