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Disrupting is Good Business… As Long As You Pace Yourself and Care for Your Customers

By now, you’ve probably heard the term disruptive innovation and you know that disruption has positive connotations when it comes to the future of your business. Jeff Bezos has proven it to the extreme. But, any level of disruption can have a negative effect on your business if your customers are not ready for it — or cannot afford it.

As is frequently said, “Steady as she goes”; done correctly, disrupting does not mean chaos. As long as you are thoughtful and well-organized, you can be the next successful disruptor.

Make sure that you really know the comfort level of your customer base.

Statistics indicate that 84 percent of customers cite innovation as a somewhat or very important factor when choosing vendors for the products or services that they need. Unfortunately, other statistics say that 85 percent of new consumer products fail in the market. If you don’t truly know your customers, then your business could become an unwelcomed statistic.

Let’s say that your data storage device business was founded based on risk-averse baby-boomer customers who like keeping their data in-house. Before you completely stop selling disk-based hardware in favor of switching solely to Cloud service offerings, talk to your existing customers.

Will they trust that your new services will be safe and secure? If not, are you ready to say goodbye to your current customers in favor of a completely different customer population?

This is probably not the disruption you seek. By all means, start marketing Cloud offerings to a younger customer base that trusts the technology. But, don’t oust your existing customers post haste.

Employee TrainingTake it a step at a time.

Rather than jumping head first into disruption, plan a logical, step-by-step approach that works for you and brings resistant customers into the fold. For example, those boomer customers can’t live in the past forever, so take the steps to convince them that safe Cloud solutions are becoming essential.

Working with resistant customers individually is often an ideal first step that brings them along. To reach a larger audience, however, a content marketing scheme might also go a long way toward comforting fears about Internet security or other issues while showing the benefits that the Cloud brings to daily life.

With a good plan, you don’t have to lose existing customers while expanding your customer base.

Major disruption requires extensive customer education.

Pay close attention to customer education. Without it, you’re likely to only disrupt your bottom line. You have to bring customers into your new world by engaging them to learn more.

Think of the Amazon Echo, which consumers initially saw as a fancy, voice-activated music player. Convincing consumers to recognize the Echo as an essential personal assistant required a massive public education campaign. After deciding to market the device based on its ability to remove the daily inconveniences of life, Amazon attacked virtually every type of media with educational advertising. It even had a spot this year during the Super Bowl.

Do I need to mention that, when Amazon disrupts, it quickly attracts the news media? You may have to take extra steps to bring reporters to your door, but it’s worth the effort. Particularly if you want to ease minds about special concerns, news items are powerful ways to begin educating potential customers. Back to the Cloud storage example, an ad or blog post may not convince customers with strong security concerns. A segment in the business news definitely seems more authoritative.

Look hard at the numbers.

Almost by definition, disrupting is a risky business. Huge businesses can afford to risk a few duds without having a major effect on earnings. Unless you’re in a similar position, you have to figure out how to run detailed projections.

Since innovation generally takes you into the unknown, you can’t use historical data to predict projected sales per se, but you can look at potential downsides by considering anticipated new costs, a possible expansion of your team, and the likely longevity of the innovation’s life cycle. Remember: competitors are always waiting to take advantage of good ideas.

Disrupt your industry — not your customers.

The traditional definition of disruption is negative, involving interruptive problems. However, the new, business-related definition calls up positive mental images of new products or services that take the world by storm.

Just remember that a new product or service is only brilliant when it attracts new customers without alienating the existing ones. Keep customers in mind when you think about your next disruptive step. Then, develop a solid plan that can bring a throng of captivated customers to your door.

About the author

Carol Roth is a radio host on WGN, a CNBC TV contributor, a ‘recovering’ investment banker & a bestselling author of The Entrepreneur Equation. You can find her on Twitter @CarolJSRoth or at She also has an action figure made in her likeness.