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Can You Be Too Far Ahead of Your Competition? – By Sherri Hammons

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Author: Sherri Hammons, CTO at IQ Navigator

In a recent meeting with a major analyst firm, I was told that my product strategy was “a little ahead of the market.” It sounded almost like a problem, rather than what we are all striving for. Who has a strategy of “We like to be just a bit behind the market”?

But, I quickly realized that wasn’t her point. Her point was not to get too far ahead of the market. You want to be just enough ahead to be the innovator/disruptor, but not so far ahead you become irrelevant to a market that can’t keep up.

When I was early in my career, my company was purchased by DoubleClick. We quickly set off on a path to disrupt the market by using cookie technology (something very new at the time) to identify by name, users of the internet. And we did it. (We could map your actual name and address as you surfed the relatively new World Wide Web in early 2000.)

We were making history. Disrupting a new market. We were counting our dollars and high fiving UNTIL the Federal Trade Commission and privacy groups in California shut us down.

Yes, shut us down.

We were too far ahead of the market and the billion dollars spent by DoubleClick to purchase our company was negated overnight.

Ouch.

There are some things to consider when planning your strategy so that you are ahead, but not too far ahead.

What are the barriers to adoption?
Can your customers actually adopt your innovation? Do they have processes that could prohibit it? Enterprise customers are typically much harder to change than small / medium ones, so make sure your target market can actively keep up with you.

How many hours/days/months/years for them to be able to adopt?
In some cases, I’ve seen big enterprises take years to change their behavior. In fact, I’ve seen the government move more quickly than large companies. (See below for my analytical chart called Rate of Adoption.) Consumers are typically the fastest to adopt, then small to medium and finally large companies. The government is its own beast. In my experience, I would place non-profits with large companies on the adoption scale.

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Are there regulations or other considerations that could prevent your strategy from being successful?
Uber has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars in fines due to regulatory compliance issues around the world. Since they seem to have limitless funds for all things legal, they have weathered it. But, most companies would have gone under from the weight of it all.

What can your competitors do with your innovation?
I am often amazed at how competitors will try to turn an innovation and advanced strategy into an advantage for them. I recently saw a company hand out white papers on why mainframe architectures were the way to go in an effort to combat a competitor’s upgrading of their software architecture. The slogan could have been “Delivering yesterday’s technology tomorrow.” Some people fell for it.

There are countless other questions around it. DO NOT STOP INNOVATING. Just make sure you can bring everyone along who needs to join the party.

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Sherri Hammons

About Sherri Hammons

Sherri is a technology executive with more than 18 years of experience managing technology assets, architecting technical solutions, and enabling technology and information to support, enhance and frame a broad range of corporate initiatives. She provides leadership and direction for all areas of Information Technology both nationally and internationally.