There are no two ways around it: proactive businesses are more competitive than reactive ones. Particularly in today’s ever-changing business and technological landscape, it doesn’t pay to be behind the trends. Rather, the flexible, adaptive, focused mindset of a proactive business make it better able to meet customer demand and stay at the industry forefront. Making the transition from reactive to proactive decisions involves large psychological and procedural shifts, and so here are four steps to get you and your business on your way.
1. Set priorities and track time
The first two steps toward both personal and corporate proactivity is knowing who you are and where you are going. Many people are reactive because they don’t have clear goals or purpose, and so they wait for external factors to motivate action. Being responsive to external influences is a good thing, but being dependent on them is not. Instead, take some time to identify a clear mission and big picture business goals.
Next, prioritize the tasks and processes that will move you toward achieving those goals. In this phase, considering past performance as well as any available time tracking data for employees and projects can significantly improve the accuracy and effectiveness of prioritization. The more in touch you are with company goals and capacity, the confident and equipped you’ll be for proactive thinking and decision making.
2. Follow industry trends
Willingness to change and adapt is only valuable if you also know the dynamics of business landscape you’re meant to adapt to. Taking a proactive approach means taking action to adapt before external events force you to do it. Such behavior places your company ahead of its competitors so that your products or services are ready to meet industry needs just as those needs come into full development.
Some of the best ways to keep up with industry trends are by reading industry research and trend reports, following industry influencers blogs and social media, surrounding yourself with smart, engaged colleagues-as-advisors, and listening to customers.
3. Find out what customers want
In addition to the other sources of industry trends above, your customers are an excellent resource for predictive information. Too often the only time a company contacts its customers is for further sales. This usually doesn’t set the tone for eliciting constructive feedback or information. A better approach is to start proactively contacting customers as part of a service initiative. A 2013 survey found that 87% of customers want proactive communication from a company. Of these, 73% said that a proactive customer service call offering help positively changed their perception of the business calling them. Contact customers proactively to offer service or follow-up on sales will not only improves the perception of your company, but also generate communication ripe for learning what your customers really care about and how to meet those desires.
4. Capitalize on opportunity
Once you’ve got your finger on the pulse of industry trends as well as customer needs, you’re in a good position to start identifying and taking advantage of new opportunities. Reactive companies wait for a complaint or crisis before deciding to change, and this will maintain the status quo at best, but has the potential to harm reputation and customer relationships. Instead, a proactive company actively seeks out possible threats and uses information and analysis to head them off before they ever arise. For those familiar with SWOT Analysis, this is the process of converting threats into opportunities. Looking at change as a generator of opportunity – chances to move your company ahead of its competitors – is the crux of the proactive mindset. Reactive companies waste time and energy running in place, trying to protect themselves from the effects of change. Proactive companies move out ahead of the rest by finding new ways to advance amidst the unpredictable landscape before them.