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Value myopia – a business killer

March 15th, 2017

glasses for myopia

It all seems pretty straight forward. A business provides a product or a service that a customer values and in return receives payment for it. Those businesses that provide a higher level of perceived value to customers will gain over those that provide less. This is the foundation of our market-based economy. Businesses use Marketing to understand what customers want, R&D to develop it, Manufacturing to build it and Sales to sell it. Basic stuff taught on any elementary business course.

So why do so many businesses get it wrong? How do they lose sight of the value needs of their customers? In effect they have got lost, guided by ‘value maps’ that no longer match the reality of their customers’ environment. Even large, sophisticated businesses are not immune from this disease. Just think about Nokia, Blackberry and IBM.

 

Lessons from the past – Nokia and Blackberry

Nokia started life in 1865 as a forestry business. Over the next one hundred years its business moved from wellington boots to electronics and military equipment and then in 1982 to mobile phones. By 2005 Nokia dominated the global market for mobile phone handsets with more than one third of the market. Yet only nine years later, in 2014, Nokia exited the mobile phone handset business after losses nearly bankrupted the company.

How did this happen? A key reason was that Nokia failed to successfully respond to a new paradigm in mobile phone handsets created by Apple when it launched its iPhone in 2007. Underlying this was that Nokia’s customer value map no longer matched the reality in the market. Nokia’s mobile phones were effectively based on a ‘radio paradigm’, where signal strength, call quality and battery life were key. However customers increasingly valued internet-based services, multiple applications, a fun and slick user experience wrapped in a slim and well designed package and were prepared to trade battery life and call qualities for these value elements. The iPhone was built on a ‘computer paradigm’ that better matched customers’ new value requirements. Nokia could not adjust its mobile phone business model to meet these new requirements fast enough and ended up leaving the market.

Backberry’s fall from market dominance was as calamitous as Nokia’s – with 41% share of the US market in early 2010 dropping to 1% by mid-2015. Whilst Blackberry was successful in selling to corporate customers, consumers became increasingly frustrated at the devices’ limitations in internet access, lack of Apps and usability compared to the more user-focused smartphones provided by Apple, Samsung and HTC. Trends such as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and the success of Apple and Google in providing ‘business-level’ applications on their phones meant that it was the users that drove the move away from Blackberry phones. Despite the new Blackberry 10 operating system introduced in 2013 – arguably a superior operating system to IOS and Android – its lack of application support effectively killed it. Blackberry was unable to establish an App ecosystem with sufficient critical mass to provide the required functional value demanded by customers.

 

IBM’s transformation – realising a new map of customer value

IBM successfully managed to realign its value proposition and business model to the needs of its customers – after a serious misalignment became apparent in the early 1990s. Customers were abandoning it for faster, more nimble competitors. Between 1991 and 1993, IBM lost a massive $16 billion. The core reason for IBM’s difficulties was that the IT market was changing and IBM’s value proposition had not. New developments such as personal computing, mobile telephony, integrated software solutions and the internet were moving IT beyond its traditional focus of the IT Data Centre to a strategic business issue.

As a result decision-making for selection and investment in IT was evolving from IT Management to business functions such as Marketing and Operations. IBM’s sales force did not have relationships with these decision makers, Management Consulting firms did and provided strategic guidance on IT issues. Some of these consultants, such as CSC and Accenture were also IT outsourcing companies. Outsourcing of IT meant that other IT providers, such as IBM, would become commoditised as hardware and software suppliers to the outsourcer and their influence and profit margins significantly reduced.

Through a major transformation programme IBM was able to realign its business model to match the new value requirements of its customers. Those value requirements were for an integrated service-based offering that reduced the risks and cost of ownership of IT for customers through consulting and outsourcing offerings. Building the new business model to deliver this was a ten year journey and IBM’s business changed from one where services accounted for 9% of revenue in 1991 to one where services accounted for 40% of revenue in 2001.

So how can businesses avoid the onset of ‘value myopia’ and ensure that their ‘customer value map’ matches what is happening in reality in their customers’ environment?

 

An accurate map of customer value

Here are three key guidelines to help ensure an accurate map of customer value:

1.     Always consider value from the customer’s perspective. Particularly the relative weighting of value elements such as functionality, experience, cost and quality, which vary by customer and the situation that prevails at the point of purchase or use.

2.     Customer and User insight is critical in developing the customer value map.This requires deep understanding of customers and users, their wants and needs. Approaches such as Anthropology, Lead Users and Co-Development are powerful in enabling this insight.

3.     Use structured and responsive methods for developing new and enhanced value propositions to ensure that value innovation improves the fit with how customer and user needs are changing. Techniques such as QFD, Value Analysis and Conjoint Analysis allow a detailed and holistic map of customer value needs to be created. Approaches such as Lean Start-up allow new propositions to be quickly developed and tested – reducing the risk of value misalignment with customer needs. By identifying trends in how customer value requirements are changing, businesses can get early notice of required changes in their value proposition and business model

Businesses need to recognise the ease and danger of a disconnect developing between their value propositions and user wants and needs which are by nature dynamic. They need to continually review and update their ‘value maps’ to ensure they match customer reality.

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Front cover with border for LinkedIn - SMALLFurther information on value mapping can be found in Alastair Ross’s new book ‘Sowing the seeds of business transformation’ and available in paperback on Amazon.

(A version of this article was published on LinkedIn Pulse on February 21, 2017).

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