Market leaders are extremists

No lack of ambitions
When you read the annual reports or websites of companies, you will notice that there is no lack of ambitions. Just see how often you come across the following phrase: “Company X has a leading position…”, “Company Y is the market leader in….”.

There are, of course, more companies with the ambition to be a market leader than there are actually market leaders. After all, it is easier to declare yourself the market leader than to actually be it. But responsive organizations grow from within, with self-awareness and confidence. It is good to have a solid ambition, but with that comes the question of what the ambition of your organization means in practice.

The game and the rules
Long ago, after I had ended a relationship, a good friend gave me a book as an uplifting gesture: ‘If love is a game, these are the rules’. The writer, Chérie Carter-Scott, approached the subject like a game. Assuming that understanding and applying the rules of the game will increase your chances of lasting success in love and relationships. In the context of entrepreneurship, this is an interesting perspective: if ‘market leadership’ is the game, what are the rules? And are you willing to do what it takes to realize your ambitions?

Mercilessly hard
Companies that are leading in their market (segment) come in many shapes and sizes. A great diversity is possible in the way in which market leadership is shaped – in terms of market share, quality, turnover, cost leadership, service or innovation. In that respect, the first rule is that market leaders find and go their own way. Heading for their own, unique, vision of the products and services they provide. That is the starting point for exceptional results that ultimately lead to market leadership. But this requires a quality that is just as important: the ability to do it. That means sticking mercilessly to that vision and the principles of quality. To the extreme.

Extremists
In our earlier blog ‘The blessings of micromanagement’ we already discussed that extreme attention to detail leads to extreme quality. You could say that market leaders are extremists. In the good sense of the word.

For example, Djops is an employment agency with its own vision on quality: the company wants to be the best and strives that customers and temporary workers experience this every time. That is why, for example, every temporary worker is personally brought to the customer by a Djops employee at the start of an assignment. To ensure that everything is in order for a good execution of the work. Employees are therefore endlessly pointed out how important it is to always fulfill the quality promise (‘starting inside means winning outside’ is the motto). That extra attention takes a lot of effort and energy. Every day. But it leads to distinctive quality that is experienced. As one client put it: “Temporary workers often complain about their employment agency, but never about Djops”.

Steve Jobs is known to have had an extreme vision vision on design: the inside of a PC must also be visually well designed and neatly arranged. Does it matter? Yes, because “mercilessly” following this rule contributes to the best possible user experience; even when you have to open your PC once, the product looks great. Which is fully aligned with the vision and mission of the company: to realize the best user experience, by providing the best service and fantastic products.

Jumbo Supermarkets goes very far when it comes to customer service: at the start of the supermarket chain, they investigated the main reasons for dissatisfaction among supermarket customers. It turned out there were seven. Waiting times at the checkout, for example. Or a large assortment, but just not the one brand that you like. Jumbo turned these ‘dissatisfiers’ around and turned them into seven ‘customer certainties’. Some of these are extreme from a traditional retailer’s point of view. If one customer wants a product of a specific brand that is not sold, it will be bought specifically for that person. And are you number four in line at the cash register when not all cash registers are open? Then you get your groceries for free! Jumbo’s extreme behavior when it comes to service and exceeding customer expectations has contributed to the supermarket fast growth for years.

New Year’s resolutions
It takes a lot of effort to realize extreme ambitions – whether you are an employment agency, a computer manufacturer or supermarket. But it always delivers distinctiveness that pays off in market position and growth.

This requires more than that unique vision or that far-reaching idea: the discipline and the ability to actually do it.

In other words, the most important rules of the game ‘Market leadership’ are comparable to the annual good intentions: you should not only have them, but above all: follow through. Every day.

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Responsiveness is more important than the plan

Where will you be in five years?
A question that many entrepreneurs, career tigers and top athletes ask themselves is: “Where do I want to be in five years’ time”? Asking this question will help you plan your future and take the necessary steps to get there. Or so is the assumption…

“Life got in the way”
Yet I know very few entrepreneurs who at any point have arrived at the place they had thought of for themselves five years earlier. There are always events and developments that influence the direction and the result – both positive and negative. Life came between them and their plans.

Relative value
Of course your organization has a vision. But that vision is not limited to time. It is about what can be improved in your market, how products and services can be marketed in distinctive ways, the possibilities of technology, new value propositions. And with that vision comes an ambition. Call it a mission: market leadership, most innovative company, best employer. You name it. It’s good to make that ambition “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Acceptabel, Realistic and Time-bound). This is your potential! And people will get excited about it. But the answer to the question “Where do you want the organization to be in five years’ time” has relative value. For example, if you are an ambitious hospitality entrepreneur who wanted to open your restaurant in the spring of 2020. Or someone who envisioned to open their online brand of consumer goods. In either case, the strategic plan doesn’t make much sense anymore – for one entrepreneur the COVID 19 outbreak could mean bankruptcy, the other one is growing faster than he had anticipated. In any case: for both entrepreneurs it means finding an answer to the circumstances and events now. In other words: it’s about being responsive. Either by changing your business model – delivering meals at home and setting up the processes and logistics for this – or invest in scaling up your operation and finding a solution to the financing problem that this creates.

The dot on the horizon versus now…
Entrepreneurial life is full of unexpected events and developments, opportunities and threats alike. But what is more important then? The best possible response to events and developments? Or sticking to that “dot on the horizon”? The answer, of course, is the best possible response right now. Because that’s what the future of your company hinges on!

Doing business in the present moment
No company can afford anything else: if reality “happens” to your company, responsiveness is required. Because you do business and manage it in the present moment. By responding to and anticipating change. By improving and innovating. And that takes you and your organization somewhere. Very often this is not at the predetermined end point. The journey turns out to be more important. And if you are able to look at it that way and take your organization along, the journey will also be a lot more fun and adventurous. Full of unexpected windfalls.

John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” That does not apply to responsive organizations. They are of course inspired by their ambitions and strategy. But these are not set in stone. As Daniël Ropers, former Managing Director of Bol.com, put it: “Responding to change is really more important than following a plan!” (‘The Responsive Entreprise’, by Rini van Solingen en Vikram Kapoor, Publisher Boom, 2016).

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