Palo Alto – August 17, 2020 Tech has undergone major changes in the last 20 years — WiFi, smartphones, machine learning, and autonomous vehicles, to name just a few, are all technologies that didn’t exist a few decades ago. And with new innovations that come to life every day, staying up-to-date on industry trends has never been more important.
Over the course of my career, I’ve been fortunate to get in on the ground floor of several major changes in technology, including networking, security, Cloud, and CX. During these shifts, flexibility and adaptability were key to my success. They still are.
To stay relevant, you must remain open-minded to customer feedback and new advancements from not only within your specific industry but also in adjacent industries.
This means keeping your finger on the pulse and constantly being prepared to learn something new.
Here are four factors to keep in mind:
1. Be flexible but not in lieu of structure.
Flexibility doesn’t mean you should fly by the seat of your pants — especially at an early-stage company. Structure is crucial to normalizing all the different approaches in sales, customer support, and market fit.
For example, if your product sale is more transactional in nature, it drives a certain GTM structure — from the customer outreach style/cadence to the people your hire. Conversely, if your product sale is more solution-based in nature, it drives a different GTM structure.
By having an established protocol, you’ll be able to better normalize customer interactions and can reduce the “signal to noise” ratio that can often cloud your decision processes.
Then you’ll have more room to dig into what your customers want and adjust your approach as you see fit. At this point, flexibility becomes highly important.
It’s never good to be too rigid, but establishing a strong foundation for your company helps pave the way for agility later on.
2. Use customer interactions in the market to inform your product and sales processes, and even your company focus.
A key part of staying agile in any industry impacted by tech — that is, in every industry — is looking at how you can adjust your focus based on new customer learnings.
Earlier in my career, I ran a content delivery network (CDN) with cutting-edge technology and a huge market opportunity. When we spoke with our existing customers about their experiences, however, they emphasized their favorite aspect of our product was in fact our orchestration layer. This came as something of a shock since we set ourselves out to be a content delivery company. This orchestration feature wasn’t part of the original investment thesis, and the vast majority of our employees came on board to build and develop the CDN product.
But by staying open-minded, we were quickly able to switch gears.
Frequent and delicate communication with our team helped assuage the emotional impact of having them shift their focus to an entirely different company than the one they signed up for. And it paid off.
Eventually after adjusting our product offering, we were acquired by a major security company. Even though our company wasn’t originally built around security features, by remaining flexible and listening to our customers, we found our purpose.
Altering your mission doesn’t necessarily mean your earlier product was a flop. A lot of business success is dependent on timing, place, and other random factors beyond your control, so being open to rethinking your strategy can be just the thing to get you on the right path.
3. Get involved with next-generation projects within your industry.
If you’re planning a career move from one industry to another, it’s critical you’re in the know about the latest technologies and processes in that new industry.
But even if you plan to stay within a particular industry, you have to remain open to the newest innovations.
A good way to do this is to become involved in next-generation technology.
I learned the importance of this while running a company called SnapRoute, which for me was a bit of a Back to the Future experience. I began my career in networking nearly two decades prior, but when I joined the SnapRoute team, I discovered how far the tech had evolved. It was truly eye-opening to come full circle in a tech that I learned so many years ago to see how modern technologies and techniques can be applied to revolutionize how people build and run networks.
It’s important to stay in the know with the latest innovations in your field. If you stay flexible, you’ll wind up having unique experience and opportunities, and find new ways to look at an industry you thought you knew.
4. Stay up-to-date on what’s trending in adjacent industries.
Often, the same technological evolutions that affect one industry will affect others. For example, the networking industry is currently undergoing the same virtualization revolution that took application servers by storm 10 to 15 years ago.
If you observe a fruitful change in an adjacent technology, there’s a good chance it’s going to make its way into your industry.
Think of AI and machine learning technology. Both are relatively recent phenomena that are dramatically altering the business landscape. They’re already making their way into disparate industries like medicine and government. There is not an industry which will not be affected by these technologies, and leaders in every field should be thinking about how to integrate these technologies into their future business model.
If you can stay informed about advancements in and adjacent to your industry, you’re going to be prepared when new technologies inevitably make their way into your space. If you don’t keep up, you’ll miss out on great business opportunities and your company (and your career) will suffer. But if you do, you’ll be in a much better position to weather and, even better, to fully exploit future changes.