3 ways top companies maintain their edge as they scale

Top companies, as they scaled, did not lose the qualities that elevated them to prominence in the first place. Here are three ways you can follow their lead.

Mon Apr 06 10:15:22 EDT 2015

Consumers today have short memories. If a company can’t show them a product or service that saves them money, makes their lives appreciably easier or offers them a dramatically better experience, they'll entertain the possibility of taking their business elsewhere.

Look no further than the dazzling climbs of Netflix, Uber, Nest, Amazon and Tesla for examples of companies that defied convention, shook their respective industries to their core, poached new customers from legacy powerhouses – and helped construct a "new normal" along the way.

The key for these companies, as they scaled, was not losing the qualities that elevated them to prominence in the first place. Here are three ways you can follow their lead:

1. Don't Rest on Your Laurels

If you've seen Honeywell's brand new Lyric thermostat, you'll probably notice it's similar in form and function to the model offered by Nest, which launched its self-learning, smart thermostat in 2011, and in the process, helped define the entire connected home category.

The common narrative here is that Nest, a true disruptor, is not only competing with the industry’s old guard right out of the gate, but that it’s also pushing the entire thermostat market, including Honeywell, to innovate.

Yet, let's not forget Honeywell's history either – its T-86 themostat, a revolutionary round model, literally reshaped the thermostat market back in 1953, and that innovative spirit continues with the Lyric.

Both companies share a refusal to become complacent. Even though Nest has received a fair amount of credit for ushering in the smart thermostat, Honeywell has 100 years of innovation under its belt and is continuing to evolve itself.

2. Start with the Customer, not 'The Way Things Are Done'

The word "disruptive" is often used to describe Tesla Motors. And it's not difficult to see why. Tesla has spurned tradition and built a business model around selling vehicles directly to customers and deploying outlets in upscale shopping malls to educate the public.

But don't use the word "disruptive" around Tesla executives. As Diarmuid O’Connell, the company’s vice president of business development, said last year: "I disagree with the characterization that [Tesla] is disruptive. It’s only disruptive from their point of view. It is logical and pragmatic from our point of view."

What O’Connell meant is that Tesla constructed its business model by starting from square one and asking first what its customers would want, and then worked backward to determine how it could best meet their needs. So, instead of making subtle tweaks to the dealership model – the way cars have historically been sold – Tesla blew up conventional logic entirely and created low-pressure environments where dealership-wary customers could go to learn more about its vehicles.

It takes courage to step out and ask "What if we did it this way instead?" – but that's often the best way to free yourself from stale approaches and best meet the needs of your customers.

3. Create a Frictionless, Omnichannel Experience

Did you hear about Starbucks' Frappuccino Happy Hour offer last summer? Well, if you walked into a Starbucks while the offer was going on, saw the TV commercial, followed Starbucks on the web or social media, used its popular mobile app or subscribed to SMS messages from the company, then it was hard to miss – because the offer was on each one of those platforms!

Starbucks has mastered the omnichannel experience. It delivers a consistent message, free of distortion as it passes between different mediums, and provides customers a rich, end-to-end experience that’s about much more than just coffee.

As Starbucks has shown, marketing that remains relevant and reaches the right customer, in the right channel, at the right time, is what builds customer loyalty and transforms companies into lifestyle brands. By maintaining multiple, interconnected channels, you'll gain intel about your customers, thereby enabling you to deliver a better, more personalized customer experience.

To learn more, please join me (@jay_bartlett) for the tweetchat, "Scaling a Business in a Connected World" on Thursday, April 9 at 8 p.m. I'll be joined by Marsha Collier (@MarshaCollier) and Brian Moran (@brianmoran). And for an additional perspective on this topic, please see our recent guest post “Running a Better Global Business: Planning to Expand,” by Rieva Lesonsky.