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Monday, 19 August 2013

Look Mum - No Hands!


Look Mum – No hands!
Remember your first attempt at trying to ride a bike without holding the handlebars, how did that end? Well why is it that most businesses have a tendency to try and replicate this in the business world? Businesses seem to consider where they have had success and believe they then understand how to do business in a new market? Should we just move into another region and do what we’ve been doing because it’s worked in one part of the world?  I get the sense that they honestly believe they can continue doing “business as usual” while expanding.  Of course, they arrive at this belief having made several assumptions and comparisons between their home market and the new market. There is only one assumption that has consistently held true.  Within any market a business plans to enter, there are always new growth opportunities.   However, whether they can translate what they do today, into a new market, will determine how they benefit from those opportunities. 
Our global economy is a small place.  We are all increasingly aware of the successes and failures of any business as they move beyond their home market.  Why is it then that business’s fail to learn from those who go before them?  Whether into new geographies or in adjacent markets? Consider for a moment you are looking to build a plane. Would you really start from zero knowing the lessons learned over the decades? Of course you wouldn’t! So why should business plans targeted at entry into new markets be any different?
Yes, there are some unique cases where businesses have managed to replicate what they have done in their home market successfully into a new market usually due to the market demand being so high for a unique product they are willing to overlook any localization requirements, but these are and remain incredibly isolated instances. There are a larger and more significant number of companies that have failed. Why?  An organizations complete failure to interpret the dynamics of the real opportunity and the behaviour of the market they are seeking to enter. As such, they have either had to sink significant spending into the opportunity, just to stay afloat, or change their operating model significantly to achieve some form of success.   Both activities result in a depreciated or even possibly a negative outcome.
I have seen countless businesses state they have identified an opportunity and are best placed to address that opportunity due to their home market success and then fail. They usually base their analysis on a few common principles: size of population, spend in relevant segment, and growth of local competitors and if they are really sophisticated, access to their supply chain requirements in that market. At best, these criteria are only to identify if there “is an opportunity”, but nothing more. Even when looking at adjacent markets what are the requirements for the right to participate and how much change is required by your business to make that change? You don’t jump off a cliff without checking what is below. Do You – sorry I don’t know many cliff divers out there!
Looking at the Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) industry, which is becoming very crowded, there is a growing view that through their niche success they are best placed to expand into new markets.  This is not at all surprising given that everything these days is somehow connected to “mobile” or “in the cloud” and basically revolving “around networks”.  So, many businesses feel ICT organizations don’t just have an opportunity to compete in new or adjacent markets but, they have a right to, given their home market success. This is both lacking in logic and potentially dangerous for their business when their starting point is an operating model which is based upon their local market success.  
Leveraging partners as you enter unknown terrain provides your business with a set of “handlebars” and ultimately can result in a more stable and inherently positive outcome. They will enable you to adapt to whatever terrain you come across, or challenges placed in front of your business.  Adaption is really the key to understanding new markets – start by assuming you are going to adapt during the journey and then the only question you have to ask yourself is by how much?  Once you’ve made those determinations, you can then establish your plan for that market and then begin to understand how much of your existing capability can be leveraged. There is a growing wave of expectation for ICT firms to build their own ecosystems and to start offering services with best of breed partners that are complimentary.  This is being driven by an increasing demand for integrated solutions by customers - and as a result experiences.  Just like riding a bike through rocky terrain whilst holding the handlebars, support when entering non familiar territory is not a bad thing. If you fell of your bike riding over rough terrain without holding the handlebars would you really repeat the exercise or use a little more caution?
Doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different outcome will never deliver you the result you are looking for – I know surprising right? Therefore, don’t seek to blindly follow the path of your competitor, but learn from their journey both the good and the bad. Don’t simply do what you’ve successfully achieved in a different market, instead capitalize on your knowledge and capabilities! Leverage these capabilities in a relevant way, a way which is aligned to the market you are seeking to enter. Ultimately defining your concept for all markets is perfectly fine but the execution of that concept must be relevant to the market you are seeking to enter. Above all be ready to adapt to the dynamic nature of the market you are seeking to enter! Last but not least consider your partner ecosystem in the market you are trying to enter, because if you don’t get ready for a ride down the mountain as you enter the new market without being able to hold the handlebars for control – because they simply won’t be there!  I am sure similar to many of you that when I was starting out on my bicycle heading down that hill without holding on that first time… the idea of shouting out to Mum saying “Look Mum no hands!” was great in concept however the outcome was simply not a pretty sight!

3 comments:

Tod said...

Sage advice, good sir, and reflective of the experiences you and I shared in introducing a US-based PS firm into Asian markets - get your local partnerships together on the front end of the effort, or risk being 'on the outside looking in' when you most need those handlebars to negotiate the rocky trail. Seems this should be well-understood common knowledge at this point but, based on the number of failed attempts, clearly is not. Thanks for your thoughtful encapsulation of the issue.

Nathan Bell said...

Thanks Tod, having worked for five different telco's I can see there is still a lot of learning as we go but partnerships can definitely help both telcos and businesses alike get there!

Anand Santhanam said...

Good analogy Nathan. Totally agree having partner ecosystem in new markets of the only way, of course apart from inorganic acquisitions. From my viewpoint I always wonder how to create a trusting sustainable partnership in a highly competitive often suspicious environment with organisations strategies and directions changing more rapidly.
-Anand Santhanam