How would you like to be able to legitimately claim to be the best in the world at something? Seems like you would have it made doesn't it? I imagine that images of the world's best golfer, singer, artist, or even sales person come to mind.

But what if the thing you were best in the world at put you at the world's greatest disadvantage? Doesn't seem logical does it?

But you, in fact, may be attempting to put yourself in that very position. What if you're trying to be the best in the world at the wrong thing? Let me give you an example that's easy to follow with the advantage of hindsight.

The top of the industry

When was the last time you sat down and typed on a typewriter? How many of you reading this post have never even used a typewriter? It's hard to believe, but it wasn't that long ago that a typewriter was standard equipment on every desk.

Smith Corona dominated the typewriter market. While they didn't invent it, they were responsible for almost every significant improvement ever made to the typewriter. They developed everything from the first typewriter with both upper and lower case letters to the first electronic dictionary and word processor.

They were aware of the "supposed" threats to the typewriter. They heard that customer preferences and demands were changing. They heard about these "startup computer companies" and the new competition they were supposed to represent. It wasn't that they didn't take the threats seriously; they even explored getting into computers themselves. However, in the end, they convinced themselves that their future was in becoming better at what they had always been, that by doing so, they could overcome any new competitor. And by becoming better at what they were already doing, they could continue satisfying their customers. They were committed to becoming "the best typewriter company in the world".

Unfortunately for them, that's exactly what they became. From the time they rejected becoming part of the computer industry and recommitted to the typewriter industry, it took them all of about three years to file for bankruptcy the first time. It took another three years for their employee count to drop from 5,000 to a couple hundred and for the majority of their manufacturing space to be leased out as warehouse space to other companies.

Now it's our turn

Now, the independent agency system is threatened. Not just by the obvious such as healthcare reform, but by new customer demands and by new never-been-seen-before competitors.

How many of you, in seeing the threats, don't see it as a call to innovate and embrace new ways of helping your clients? How many don't see it as a mandate to transform your very business model, sales process, value proposition, and client experience?

Instead how many of you have recommitted to becoming better at what you've always been? How many are doubling down on the number of prospects for whom you will provide a free quote? How many are promising even greater levels of service? How many of you think by doing more of what you have always done you can fend off new competitors and continue to satisfy your clients? How many of you are committing to becoming the "greatest traditional agency in the world"?

My only caution: be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. Smith Corona did.


Photo by milkos