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How do you sell the future to people who have no interest in it?

pwc.gifThere have been dozens of keynotes through the last few months. All kinds of industries; executives; professionals; markets; challenges.

There’s a lot of change going on out there, and the brutal reality is that some get it — and a lot do not.

Each and every keynote has involved a lot of research, plenty of discussions, and a fair bit of time spent understanding how an industry or profession is changing. You learn some amazing things — farmers and funeral homes, for example, are some of the most change-capable people out there. Both are innovative, realistic, practical, and open to new ways of thinking. (Maybe this has to do with the fact that global food production has to double in the next few decades to keep up with global food consumption, and that most of those people will become customers of the latter at some point. Ok, there is room for optimism….!)

Through all the discussions and all the preparation and all the time spent on stage, there’s been enough material to write a dozen new books, but I’m going to distill it into The Masters of Business Imagination Handbook (the “current” new working title) which will go to the think-factory in a few weeks.

Suffice it to say, there was a crystallizing slide that I pulled together when I keynoted a PWC conference a week or so ago, in which I outlined to a number of executives how they could best segment their customer base in order to determine where to best find opportunity.

The more I think about it, that slide probably contained some really cool insight into how to sell into today’s economy.

I suggested to the audience that they should look at a company / client / industry, and undertake a measure of their change-quotient. If it is low — if people / executives / an industry can’t cope with reality — if they are hopelessly mired in “today” – and hence, they;ve got a pretty low change-quotient – then bail out. If they are thinking that tomorrow’s market / strategy / products / skills / capabilities will be fulfilled by what they have in place today, their change-quotient is hopelessly low.

Worse than low – they simply can’t deal with change.

And you can use that measure – the change-quotient — to segment your client / customer / industry base, and determine where you should best focus your energies.

How do you determine the change-quotient? I suggested a few factors:

  • velocity ratio : what is the rate of change within the industry? What’s the velocity of business model change? How many new competitors are there, are how quickly is the industry blurring? What’s the staff turnover rate? How quickly do new products come to market? Pick high-velocity ratio targets, since they are more likely to be focused on making change work.
  • rising tides: how quickly are customer expectations changing? If you’ve got an industry in which there are rapidly rising tides in terms of minimum service delivery, you’ve got an industry in which there are countless opportunities for innovative, future oriented products,
  • innovation index: is the industry widely innovative, or are there only a few scattered folks who dare buck the current reality? Is it an industry stuck in 2003, or are they somewhere that is just about right now and a bit more of tomorrow? I’ve met a lot of industries who are sleepwalking into the future; on the other hand, I’ve met many who are awake and ready to go.
  • creativity capability. Gosh, just who runs the industry? Who are the CxO’s? Is it mostly a lot of folks who really good at just running things? Then run away – that’s why I coined the phrase “Masters of Business Imagination” in the first place!
  • retirement rate: Not to be crude, but how many boomers are there hanging around who want the benefits, want the salary, and want the executive responsibility, but don’t want to have to do anything to confront change? This, more than anything, can be one of the key measures for change.
  • generational tolerance: At the age of 47, I’ve realized I’ve been meeting thousands of Gen-X and Gen-Connecters in a lot of industries who scream in silent frustration each and every day. They’re stuck in organizations with management who actively work to kill new ideas. They’re full of innovation, but they have no outlet for it. On the other hand, there are other industries where the frustration doesn’t boil away, but instead, is tapped for opportunity. Spot those industries — where “young people” are welcomed as a source for ideas — and you’ve got an industry with massive agility.
  • wisdom wealth: Boomers need not be change-barriers; indeed, there are some who understand where change is occurring, and who are using their years of experience – often with devastating effect – to spot and capitalize on opportunity. These are some of the most powerful organizations on the planet. They’ve merged the generations, and are change-masters.

It comes to this: if you are a company that is selling the future, don’t even try to deal with those who don’t want to deal with it.

There seems to be an entire generation of CxO’s with the fundamental strategy of not seeing the future, don’t hear the future, and don’t do the future. You can discover this by studying the change-quotient of the industry and of the company.

Focus on the high-change-quotient targets — on those who get where we are going — and you’ll do much better with your strategy, and have way more fun.

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