ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE VISTAGE RESEARCH CENTER
Business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) companies are both under immense pressure. In the case of B2B, large customers are consolidating suppliers and expecting them to be more capable. In B2C, customers expect to have access to a wide breadth of products, delivered the next day at bargain basement prices. Customers are demanding more and spending less.
The technologists are winning, and they are writing algorithms that are impacting every industry. Ten years ago, the most valuable companies in the world included GE, Exxon-Mobil and Citigroup. Today, the world’s most valuable companies including Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google have one thing in common; they are platform companies. While most entrepreneurial companies may not have the wherewithal to scale as these giants have, there is a secret menu of Silicon Valley strategic planning attributes that apply to any organization regardless of size.
All companies should be looking for ways to expand their perceived value, and customers are migrating towards suppliers with end-to-end solutions. A company can focus on a niche but also provide complete solutions within it. To be a one-trick pony–providing limited products and services into limited markets puts a company at a disadvantage. There is danger in letting the fox into the hen house (giving competitors opportunities to participate in the value chain directly adjacent to a supplier, by providing services that supplement its core competency).
The word “platform” itself can be as perplexing. The definition of what constitutes a platform is morphing into solutions that are end-to-end, often in the form of self-contained marketplaces that interact with other technologies in the platform (such as the App Store). But the true value of a platform is having access to wide swaths of data.
Here’s how small and medium-sized companies have utilized business strategy from the Silicon Valley playbook:
PERSONALIZATION AT SCALE
Mass-customization creates an illusion of choice while offering the provider the opportunity to scale profitably. T-shirts were once printed in mass. Today, silkscreen printers use digital technology to print one shirt at a time, in your size and chosen print, and ship it the next day via a plethora of ecommerce apps. A slew of personal shopper websites like Proper Cloth have emerged, providing the opportunity to buy one custom dress shirt at a time. Others like Trunk Club provide personal shopping services, in a subscription model. At your local poke place, you can order tuna or salmon but not eel. Mass-customization offers the choice of personalization, but the scale of standardization.
Made popular by ridesharing services, asset sharing is spreading to B2B with companies like FlOOW2, which supports companies sharing business equipment. Our economy does not support poor utilization of assets. Companies are migrating toward renting or sharing assets in lieu of owning them, such as in the case of fractional CFOs and CMOs.
All the rage with vacation rental sites, usage-based pricing provides economies to customers who only pay for the services they use. Companies such as Zuora provide usage-based options for cloud computing and applications. Look for ways to price your product in a way that customers get greater value because they are only using it part of the time.
Education is hot because it’s cheap. Today’s online tools have made do-it-yourself and thought leadership videos easy to create. Video also drives SEO results, and companies are finding ways to incorporate consumer education into their solutions and marketing materials.
COLLABORATIONS AND ALLIANCES
Cooperation across technologies has become omnipresent. Running a small business can be a lonely place, and owners are seeking incubators and crowdsourcing opportunities in which to share best practices and resources. The U.S. Department of Commerce offers an Advanced Technology Program so small companies can share the risk of emerging technologies.
In a universe of end-to-end solutions where assets must be fully utilized, companies are looking for ways to cobble together services, but that doesn’t mean they need to deliver them directly. A company should always deliver services squarely within their core competency and potentially outsource others.
Providers need to deliver at Uber’s level of seamlessness. New services are expanding the methods by which companies can accept payment. Technologies like Dwolla (pay with your email) and Take a Payment (accept fees through your website) abound.
Our client, Opus Agency, offers services that would individually be highly commoditized (such as those in an advertising agency, event production service, or event technology tradeshow strategist). Separately, these are commoditized markets. Combined, it is a valuable end-to-end solution. Look for ways to expand in the value chain, offering services adjacent to the ones you’re already in.
Our firm worked with a marketing analytics company that took a fee based on results, in lieu of the industry standard’s typical fee for services. Changing the monetization method is the fastest way to disrupt an industry at low cost. Taking on risk with clients is a way to create stickiness.
Every business model must constantly evolve to stay relevant. Be attentive to methods by which you can shift your service offering to provide your clients with convenience and end-to-end solutions.