I recently had the opportunity to interview Geoff Moore, influencer, marketing consultant and author of the bestselling book, Crossing the Chasm. His groundbreaking work on startup companies transitioning from early adopters to mainstream customers is still one of the most quoted in the marketing field. More recently, Moore has been documenting the challenges that large enterprises face when they undertake adding a new line of business to their established portfolio.
Geoff was kind enough to share his knowledge about change and disruption in the digital era and to reflect on his latest work, Zone to Win: Organizing to Compete in an Age of Disruption. He also talked about the ways his own influencers impact his work.
Enjoy the full interview below!
In your experience, what’s the primary obstacle that prevents organizations from keeping up with the pace of change and disruption?
The biggest challenge is that there are multiple, legitimate uses for the next marginal dollar of investment, which tends to polarize into two camps: spend it on something established and earn an attractive return this quarter, versus spend it on something for the future and get no return in the present at all. As long as there’s enough money to go around, most organizations can make do pretty well. But when disruptive innovations force the pace such that there is not enough money to go around, then organizations become conflicted, and they have to slow down just when you would want them to be speeding up. This never ends well.
Do you view AI, cognitive automation and other systems of intelligence and disruption as true game-changers when it comes to sales?
These are still early days for systems of intelligence. Most organizations haven’t finished rolling out their systems of engagement. That said, we can look down the road and make some pretty good inferences from what we’ve seen to date. In the B2C space, where the customer is more of a buyer as opposed to a shopper, e-commerce is demolishing brick-and-mortar retail, and algorithms will rule. Amazon is simply a terrifying force here, and the more data they get, the better their algorithms will be, and the more dominant they will become. Traditional retail selling will have to refocus on shoppers and try to win them over with experiences that mix digital with physical presence. For luxury goods, this is likely to work pretty well, but for most CPG, this channel is deeply at risk.
On the B2B side, the complexities, ambiguities, and politics of the vendor-customer relationship—particularly in the context of buying decisions that require multiple levels of authorization and approval—AI and its kin are nowhere near ready to play a front-line role. Here the first use will likely be in sales operations—better forecasting, indeed much better forecasting—followed by better lead nurturing and other top-of-funnel efforts helped by lead scoring and opportunity monitoring.
The sales tech landscape is extensive. With so many options, how do you recommend companies prioritize which organizational transformations to embrace?
I would never want to prioritize an organizational transformation voluntarily—it is too much like open heart surgery. What I would do instead is continually expose my sales engine to brutally frank critique—the kind of stuff that good sports teams do when they watch game film. From there I would target the single most impactful factor either to fix or to amplify, and then, and only then, would I look to sales tech as one, but not the only one, way to secure the change of state I’d be looking for.
In Zone to Win, you talk about four zones of management activity. What can leaders of companies that are in the Transformation Zone do to ensure disruption is embraced and committed to across the organization?
Most changes do not require one to activate the Transformation Zone—again, that is the operating theater for open heart surgery. Instead changes can be initiated in the Incubation Zone and then transitioned to scale (with care and sometimes with difficulty) by bending the existing processes in the Performance Zone and the Productivity Zone. The Transformation Zone is used to pursue a change that is so disruptive it puts your entire franchise at risk—either by adding a whole new product line that will consume massive amounts of resource before it takes off, or to fend off an attack from a digital disrupter that is putting your whole business under existential threat—think Kodak meets digital photography. In those cases, once the current-state/future-state change journey has been determined, the top priority—really the only priority—is to get to that future state as fast as possible come hell or high water. Every other objective—most especially, the objective of making this quarter’s number—must be subordinated to achieving this objective. This is such an unnatural act that the leader must monitor day-to-day performance relentlessly and be absolutely uncompromising about adherence to this prioritization.
You are a leader and influencer in your industry. We’re curious to find out who influences you, and why?
I have the opportunity to work with a wide range of business leaders within the tech sector. The biggest influence on me is the conversations I have with the best of them—they always change my perspective in some way, and in adjusting to the new view, I have to modify the frameworks I work with in ways that lead to new blogs, new books, new speaking opportunities, new consulting practices. The follow-on influence comes from the teams that I engage with, because inevitably the problems they bring to the table challenge the frameworks I bring to the table, and the result is the frameworks have to learn to adapt. Also, there is just a great pleasure in working with teams of intelligent, funny, and well-meaning people to tackle challenges that demand unproven, innovative solutions.
Also, check out our expert interview series.