the last three issues I shared the opportunity window that occurs when
customer satisfaction drops. This window of opportunity opens because
(a) people want things to be different than
they are, and (b) the market has not yet recognized the advantage this
presents; i.e., market recognition is weak. Seth Kahan's Opportunity Window

There are three primary strategies for leveraging
challenges in the marketplace. In previous issues I covered the
first two:

1. Address the
constraints your customers are experiencing.

2. Transpose
your core competencies to adjacent markets

This issue is
dedicated to the third: Capitalize on your relationship assets (the
people who trust you) to uncover new opportunities for value creation.

This is a strategy I often
implement for clients because the results are immediate and
insightful.  While it is hard to read your own label from the inside
of the box, the people who are closest to you can often see
the opportunities you are poised to exploit as clear as a bell. 
Better than talking to one or two is to talk to many people who
understand you, trust you, and can see the unique vantage points you

Start by identifying the people to interview,
those who are best positioned to help you to spot opportunities you can
take advantage of. Here are some to consider:

  • Customers – the people who know your value best
    are always in a position to point out areas for growth
  • Customers’ customers – this is the group most
    often mentioned when I talk to executives in the Fortune 100. Knowing
    what is on these people’s minds puts you in the best position to make a
    difference in your customers’ world.
  • Influencers – those best positioned to have
    impact often understand the nuances of the current situation best and
    therefore are early warning detectors of new circumstances, challenges,
    and favorable options
  • Thought leaders – these folks stay abreast of
    new developments and often have their pulse on emerging trends.
  • Frontline staff – they can spot needs before
    almost anyone else
  • Practical visionaries – these people have
    learned at the School of Hard Knocks; they know what’s really involved
    in midwifing new ways of working
  • Partners – one of the first groups that has new
    needs due to changing circumstances
  • Competitors – your rivals are trying to suss
    out advantageous developments, just as you are – they can be invaluable
    under the right conditions.

Once you have several interviews under your belt, you can begin to look
for patterns. Here are the top four that you can capitalize on:

  1. Big trouble
    – sometimes turmoil jeopardizes the survival of your customers or their
    customers. This is an immediate call to action. What solutions can you
    provide? Your willingness to jump in with a high level of
    accountability can solidify a relationship for years to come, not to
    mention saving your own business – after all, how far can you go if
    your clients tank?
  2. Game Change
    – although a significant change in the rules of the game does not
    threaten livelihood, it requires significant compensation. What are the
    quick fixes to new crises? Can you identify long term solutions to new
    dilemmas? Are you in a position to provide or broker the infrastructure
    required for others to capitalize on new circumstances?
  3. Educational
    – sometimes people need to learn more to stay afloat
    or maintain the top of their game. Can you spot the education required?
    Understanding the new rules well enough to help clients master them
    will put you in a position of authority. What services can you provide
    to help people in troubled waters or shifting sands?
  4. Immediate
    High Returns
    – occasionally while discussing circumstances with
    a trusted partner or client, you discover an opportunity you can jump
    on that is advantageous to everyone. Then your question will be, is
    this a flash in the pan that can add fuel to the fire but will not
    sustain over the long haul, or is this an indicator of a new direction
    that is to be developed and mined?

Your relationship assets are not to be ignored, especially in a
difficult, sluggish economy. This is the time when people pull together
to identify new solutions. Take the lead. Be willing to hold the
flashlight as others navigate the dark. It can pay off significantly,
opening up new territory to put to good use.

Happy New Year!

Here’s a tip for 2011: a Great Way to Get Past
Email and Information Overload

It is an excellent time to be prudent and put your
house in order. I don’t know about you, but email overload has been a
problem for me for some time. I was so glad to read a solution in Mark
Hurst’s book, Bit Literacy.
In it he explains why email is such a problem, and it’s not what you
think. It felt even better to begin implementing his solution, Good
Todo. It literally changed my life! To read all about this new web
application, get a free copy of his book, and access his cool tools,
read my latest Fast Co article:  Good Todo Solves Email Overload. Best wishes for a
fantastic year!