Are You Pivoting Your Way To Business Failure?

(By Mike Michalowicz)

Adapting your perspective and reacting to changes in the marketplace has long been the topic of analysis and has been assigned a litany of evolving terms. We’ve talked about “change management” and “paradigm shifts.” The latest term in this succession is “pivoting”—the practice of finding out what your customers want and then shifting, or pivoting, until you successfully deliver what your customers want to buy.”

As entrepreneurs, we know that starting and running a business is one of the riskiest things we’ll ever do in our lives. Businesses fail every day, and the basic struggle we face is how to keep our businesses and our dreams alive and healthy.

This struggle—our search for innovative answers to the challenges we face—can make us vulnerable to trendy “solutions” that aren’t based on fact or evidence but rather on buzzwords and unproven hypotheses. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for new ideas, but I want to share a cautionary tale about one of these new trends.

Adapting your perspective and reacting to changes in the marketplace has long been the topic of analysis and has been assigned a litany of evolving terms. We’ve talked about “change management” and “paradigm shifts.” The latest term in this succession is “pivoting”—the practice of finding out what your customers want and then shifting, or pivoting, until you successfully deliver what your customers want to buy.

Heading In The Wrong Direction

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with pivoting, the fact is, in practice, it’s unlikely to make you successful for several reasons.

First, pivoting can draw you away from the reasons you started your business in the first place. The most successful businesses start as an extension of the entrepreneur’s values, practices and mission in life. If you attempt to please customers at the expense of your vision, not only are you unlikely to be successful, you’re also unlikely to be happy with the results. In the long run, keeping your focus on your unique offering in the marketplace can be far more effective than turning into a chameleon who’s constantly trying to alter the way it’s perceived.

Another issue with pivoting is the speed in which you attempt to keep up with customer demands. Frequently, businesses that are pivoting in hopes of finding the magic solution to their challenges end up moving so quickly that they cycle through their options too rapidly to sufficiently assess whether the changes they’ve implemented are successful or not. If you’re making business decisions based on insufficient data or data that’s not representative of the marketplace, then your odds of failure are high. If your plan is to try out different products or delivery methods, then you have to give your products enough time to succeed or fail.

Pivoting too rapidly can also prevent the right customers from revealing themselves. I have firsthand experience here: When I was writing my first book, I was certain that I knew who my audience was—I envisioned that young men who’d recently graduated from college would comprise my core readership. I focused my marketing on that demographic and didn’t find the immediate success that I’d expected.

But if I’d persisted and actually revised my book in an attempt to capture the attention of these young male college grads, I would have missed out on the real core audience for the book. It wasn’t until I started getting calls and emails from middle-aged women that I realized that the market for my book did exist—it just wasn’t who I expected. If you put your efforts into altering your product, you can miss the natural fit for the product you really believe in.

Playing To Your Weaknesses

You started your business because you wanted to exploit your strengths, right? Another problem with pivoting is that the constant search for a way to make customers happy can move you away from your strengths toward a weakness. For instance, let’s say you run a restaurant and your strength is kicked-up comfort food (think lobster mac and cheese or chicken pot pie fritters). But you decide to add brick oven pizza to your menu—a food you have no experience making—because several customers said they wished you offered pizza. You just might be setting yourself up for failure, especially if the Sicilian guy down the street can do it better. Successful businesses align customer demands with their strengths, not their weaknesses.

Another issue you need to stay on top of involves one of the principles of pivoting—the development of a minimum viable product (MVP), or a prototype offering in order to test the waters of customer appeal. The problem with this approach is that putting out an inferior or underdeveloped product can not only prohibit you from finding your best customer, but it can also compromise customer perception of your essence. If I’d written an article rather than pouring all my time, energy and inspiration into my book, I might have diluted my effect on the market and given readers the perception that I didn’t have anything new and significant to share with them. Putting your heart and soul into your work often yields better results than hedging your bets with half-assed trials.

Earning consumers’ trust has never been more difficult than it is right now. The rule used to be that it required seven touches or contacts to create a lasting impression, but now the number is three times that—we need 21 touches to cement our name and character in a customer’s awareness. Consumers know that frauds and scams abound, and if you’re pivoting—constantly changing your products—then you’re losing the continuity you need to prove to your customers that you’re trustworthy. Pivoting can inhibit your ability to connect to your community in essential ways.

If you’re thinking about pivoting just for the sake of changing things up, it can be helpful to reflect on why you started your business to begin with. You believed that you had a product that consumers wanted, right? And you believed that your offering was unique, desirable and profitable.

Making adjustments to better serve your customers is great, but pivoting so swiftly that you end up losing your focus, your drive and eventually your core customers is counterproductive. Give yourself the opportunity to succeed before you start making radical course corrections.

(Source: Openforum)

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