What Business Are You In?
NEELY READY Ï GROWING WITH CONFIDENCE
WHAT BUSINESS ARE YOU IN?
It seems like a straightforward question: what business are you in? Yet it can be surprisingly
difficult, as a business owner, to answer the question in a way that resonates with your
customers. The cause of the difficulty is that you and your customers have a completely different
perspective of your business.
What business are you in? Seems
like a straightforward question,
but most people get it wrong
when they try to answer it for
Try it for yourself. Take out a piece of
paper and, in 30 seconds or less and
using 20 or fewer words, describe the
business you think your company is in.
Chances are the language you use to
think about (and thus describe) your
business is business-centric.
For example, an owner of an IT
consulting business might describe
their business in this way:
We are an IT consulting business that manages large projects on behalf of
clients for the design and installation of new software.
Equally, an owner of a metalworking business might offer a description like this:
We are a custom metal fabricating business that specialises in fencing,
prefabricated metal buildings and parts, and miscellaneous metal work.
Most of us fall into the trap of thinking about our business in terms of the specific products or
services that we sell, rather than thinking about how our customers view the solution we provide
While a difference in perspective sounds harmless enough, the reality is that it is likely to be
costing you real money. It can lead to a loss of sales or defection of customers to competitors.
Overcoming the perspective barrier
You may have heard the old adage that ‘Nobody needs a hammer’. It may be somewhat pithy,
but it holds a very powerful truth. When a customer wanders into a hardware store to buy a
hammer, it is not the hammer that they want. What they want is a means by which they can drive
a nail into their living room wall. In fact, they do not even want to drive in the nail – what they want
is to hang the painting they bought the day before.
By changing your emphasis to focus specifically on what it is your customers want, your business
will be better able to position its products and services in a way that appeals directly to their
Professor Clay Christenson, in his book The Innovator’s Solution, explained the customer-
focussed approach this way:
Copyright ¨ Mark Neely 2008
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