Whose demise was more dramatic – Nokia or Blackberry (RIM)? Perhaps mobile operator MTN now takes the baton – shares plummeting 18% last week, in a series of such drops.
The word arrogance springs to mind in my extensive personal experience with all three, whilst working at MTN for 10 years (since 1998).
Nokia’s arrogance regularly left a bitter taste in my mouth (as the ‘customer’). They dictated on many fronts, and were inflexible on issues that mattered to us operators. RIM’s rep reminded me frequently (as the ‘liaison’) what a favour they were doing for us, simply by letting us distribute their ‘wonder product’.
MTN’s telling moment was to publicly tell customers why we were collectively in the wrong – why high pricing was good for us.
I see the signs of a dying company even as it is still growing. Parkinson brilliantly outlined the early-warning signs of corporate demise, back in 1958. The fall can take a decade or longer. The same maxim stands as for a market crash, “the fall starts later than you expect, but is then faster than you expect”.
Brazen, Trump-like (or perhaps Stephen Jobs-like) confidence has its place in the world of big corporates, who must believe in their vision and stand their ground on all fronts. But understand the difference between confidence and arrogance. Too few companies maintain the centrality of the customer within their corporate culture. Many openly defy customers or actually leave a bitter taste in their mouths? The distinction is more subtle with distributors and partners, who are both rivals and customers.
I can equally read the signs of corporates on the up.
Huawei virtually lived in our building. They were eager to sell 3G dongles, and so happily customised small shipments for us. Nokia would not customise without unrealistic minimum commitments. Huawei rapidly usurped the dongle market from Nokia.
Samsung were mature and operator-friendly in a most refreshing way. They added specific and relevant value. They understood pressing issues for operators (like surplus stock management), and embraced the problem together (a problem Blackberry ignored). Samsung rapidly gained handset market share.
Look around to see which companies are building future relevance in their customer base, and which are too busy riding their own wave of self-importance. It’s easier to judge other companies, but also consider lessons for your own company.