Mapping your market to ‘get a sense of where you are’

by | Sep 6, 2018

I don’t follow sports. But years ago, I read a biography of a famous basketball player and it stuck with me. His approach to the game offers us a useful framework not just for sports, but for leading successful organizations.

John McPhee’s A Sense of Where You Are explores Bill Bradley’s work ethic and how hours and hours of drills gave him a huge advantage on the court, and helped him achieve Hall of Fame status in spite of his “average” physical build when compared to other greats of the game in his time.  Bradley attributed his ability as a successful shot-maker to this work ethic and developing a “a sense of where you are.” In business, we recognize the value of a similar approach at Mod Op Strategic Consulting.

In our dBrief blog, we write about the value of taking an outside-in perspective with your company or organization, developing your own “sense of where you are” in terms of the business landscape. We have seen, time and again, instances when a company is surprised by market disruptions; a new entrant or new strategies from an existing competitor. Sometimes that surprise leads to critical action and innovation; but often it comes at a big cost if not anticipated or discovered early.

Here’s a straightforward drill (just like Bradley might have espoused) to help you and your colleagues get a sense of where you are.

Create a map of your enterprise’s market ecosystem

Gather your team. Get a whiteboard. Set a timer. I’ve found that 30 minutes is usually the right amount for this initial burst. You’re not boiling the ocean, you just want to get some initial ideas together – and you want to get your team practicing how to look from the “outside in”. It’s often useful to come back and repeat this exercise after a few days to further refine your initial thinking.

Ask your team, “Who buys the things that we make? Who uses the things that we create and how does it make them successful? Who do we rely on to supply us with the things we need to make and deliver what we provide the market?” To get people thinking, you can ask, “Who do you contact and communicate with each day each day? When we host an event, or analyze our web traffic, who visits us and why?”

As people share their insights, capture them into categories on a sheet of paper where everyone sees them. Personally, I find that a white board or a large sheet of paper on a wall works best. You can also take post-it notes and paste them to wall or table. Don’t forget to put yourselves on the map too. You might find that you “live” and operate in several places in the emerging ecosystem.

When you are about three quarters through your allotted time, shift gears and step back. Look at what you have assembled. Identify any duplicates. Aggregate a few categories that could be combined.

Now ask, “Who is the one group on the wall without whom we will cease to exist? What is the one category of people who fuel the actions of all the other groups?” This may or may not be your customer. Your customer is certainly the person who sends money into your bank account, but, as is often the case with business-to-business media organizations as well as with professional associations, your customer pays you for products and services so that they themselves can get something done. Who is important to your customer?

Mark that crucial category and place it in the middle of your map. Surround it with the other categories. You now have a (draft of) a map of your ecosystem.

At this point, it is often useful to end the conversation. (That timer you had set is likely to go off right about now.)  Go back on your own and do some more thinking. Create a new draft of the ecosystem map. Once you’ve cleaned up the map and rearranged the information from the serendipitous order of a productive brainstorming session into a structure that has some logic to it, bring your team back together. Walk them through the map. You’ll quickly figure out if your logic holds, or if you’ve missed some big categories.  After a few rounds and several drafts, you and your team will have developed an ecosystem framework that will make it easier to take an outside-in look at your place in the market.

When doing this type of exercise (or drill) with our clients at Mod Op Strategic Consulting, we often see that this is the moment when people are getting onto the same page. A market ecosystem map makes it easier to identify user needs, create personas and place them in relation to each other. We often find that once you look at that map on a screen or on a sheet of paper, you and your team will have ‘a sense of where you are’ and will be better positioned to innovate and adapt. You will be well-placed to see and unlock market opportunities.

Discipline and a consistent work ethic to get a sense of “where you are” not only creates amazing basketball players, but also creates great organizations as well. We’d be glad to show you more about how the drill described above can work for your team, so you can apply critical outside-in thinking to identify opportunities and disruptions impacting your marketplace. #WGSD (We Get Stuff Done)

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Dora Chomiak


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