When the music stops

Somehow we seem to forget that in business the good times don’t last forever.

When the economy is strong, most decently run mature businesses thrive. For an earlier stage company, once it starts to gain traction, new customers come relatively easily and competitive forces are minimal.

But there will come a time when the music stops. A time when a booming economy can no longer mask our weaknesses, when emerging competition becomes a serious issue, when what worked so well for so long suddenly doesn’t.

Eventually, we can’t raise prices so easily. Inevitably we have challenges driving traffic or closing sales. The cost of acquiring a new customer (or maintaining frequency with an existing one) begins to rise. The once strong growth rates from new stores or our e-commerce business start to moderate.

The only surprising thing in all of this is that we seem surprised when it happens.

When things are good is precisely the time to invest in the future–a future that is very likely to include the need to drive virtually all growth from stealing market share, not merely riding a rising tide or passing on inflationary price increases.

For many businesses that time is right now or just around the corner. In that world good enough isn’t. Good enough doesn’t get you noticed. Good enough doesn’t cause customers to switch. Good enough rarely leads to loyalty or the ability to charge a premium price.

Stealing market share requires being more intensely relevant, more remarkable and, perhaps, more idiosyncratic than the competition. Unfortunately most organizations don’t worry about this stuff until they have to. And by then it’s usually too late.

Fix the roof when the sun is shining. Or something like that.

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