Your website and web presence should mirror your business strategy. If your website is focused on your products and services not your customer, it is a leading indicator of the way you approach the marketplace. The problem with this approach is that buyer behaviour has changed and your potential customers expect more from the first place they go to check out your company – your website.

If you are a business leader that still hasn’t figured out how to use your web presence to react to and support the customer journey, you likely have some leadership habits you need to evolve in order to survive in today’s digital economy.

Understanding Transient Advantage

The recent cover story in Harvard Business Review (June 2013), Transient Advantage by Rita Gunther McGrath, describes how business leaders should view strategy in a digital era. The idea of a transient-advantage economy suggests that business leaders today need to change their way of working. Transient advantage is a well-articulated argument for changing how you view strategy in your business, and provides important insights that could also be contributors to your lack of website success.

Here is the HBR synopsis:

For decades, the business world has been fixated on achieving sustainable competitive advantage, a position within an industry that allows a company to best its rivals over the long term. Though we can all point to companies that have succeeded with this approach, in today’s world, the edge of most companies doesn’t last long. The forces at work here are familiar; the digital revolution, disappearing barriers to entry, globalization. In a turbulent environment, business can’t afford to spend months crafting a single long-term strategy. They need a portfolio of multiple transient advantages that can be built quickly and abandoned just as quickly. Transient advantages call for a whole new playbook that is less industry-bound and more customer-centric. Executives who grasp this shift use analysis, new tools, and experimentation.

If you are in an industry or running a business that has been affected by the digital revolution and a shakeup in the way that customers are researching and buying a product or service like yours, it might be time to determine if your current approach to how you run your business, is creating habits that need to be adapted in order to achieve online success.

Your website and web presence are the best tools you have to quickly execute your advantage and test customer-centric feedback on your product or service.

A new era has dawned of facing the brutal truth.

What you did or believed five years ago with respect to your customers, their choices and the options available, are not hard facts you should hold onto. In fact, those clients we work with, who refuse to review data or work within a framework of customer-centric motivators, versus product-centric ones, have continuously failed to deliver a web presence that delivers measurable business results.

Click to Tweet: Should you still hold onto what you did or believed 5 years ago with respect to your customers?

And they have not just failed once, they have failed often. It’s okay to fail. It’s not okay to not learn from it and not change your behaviour the next time around.

We often get called in to help “fix” a website. We ask probing questions as to what a company was trying to accomplish, and the answers we get are often disturbing.

Here are five bad habits business leaders need to break if they want to achieve success with their web presence and deliver results to their business:

1. You need to stop playing the blame game.

Move away from a product focused approach and toward a customer-centric marketing, customer-centric content approach

When you engage people to help you with your website and web presence, it needs to be a collaborative effort based on flexibility and experimentation. If you tell them to build something based on your opinion and they fail to deliver something that converts, whose fault is it? Any in-house or outsourced team helping you execute your strategy needs to start with:

a. Data analysis

What are people currently doing on your website, who are they, what works today and what doesn’t?

b. A customer-centric methodology

A new home page design or email campaign that is not centered on customer needs and the buying process will continuously fail.  There needs to be structure in place to evolve customer problems and mine out data associated with their process for understanding a problem and how they go about researching and solving it.

c. A roadmap to follow

If you don’t build out a wireframe based on a clear user and conversion path for your customer, you will constantly have people inserting opinion and hijacking the process.

If you don’t have these three things, you have no one to blame but yourself.

2. You need to change your opinion of failure.

Most business leaders hate the word “fail” and will not accept that implementing a campaign may lead to poor results. Many equate failure with “costing money”. But the transient advantage dictates that you must fail in order to learn and move on to optimization success. What worked last year, may not work this year and you need to create a culture of testing and data analysis in order for programs in this new world to succeed. Fact is that new options come out every day for your customer. Their needs and perceptions are constantly changing. Accept that and drive on.

3. You need to adopt a culture of testing.

Very few business leaders I have spoken to are prepared to create a culture of testing in their marketing department. They have the bad habit of looking purely at leads generated in a program and don’t realize that sometimes you need to test different concepts to get potential customers to the ultimate goal. This is a bit of a hangover from the 90’s when many companies used tactics such as cold calling, trade shows and networking to get potential customers in the door. This works great when you can look someone in the eye and take the time to explain your product or service. This does not work in the digital age where prospects want access to the right information at the right time without speaking to a sales rep. Testing helps you determine what moves the customer up the value proposition ladder as opposed to down the sales funnel. To understand the right tactics to move someone through the prospect identification process, we have to be prepared to test, test and test some more. (And of course fail when necessary.)

4. You need to stop guessing.

Business leaders that create a framework and business processes to find every possible way to track customer engagement, means they have stopped guessing and are starting to use the data available to them to create better content, customer dialogue and ultimately customer satisfaction. Large, successful enterprises like Amazon or Zappos, don’t guess or provide opinion about what they think makes good web copy. They run the data and carefully analyze their sites to create a lens into what their customers are doing and respond to. Even the smallest of companies need to stop thinking they know what their customers want with respect to web copy, and start analyzing data and test programs to see what is actually working.

5. You need to stop being afraid to pivot.

If you think you can launch a website today and not touch it for the next 12 months, you might as well take it down. For a website and web presence to work, you need to assess it at least every 30 days and trash what is not working. This means every 30, 60 or 90 days, you may have to pivot away from something you thought was good and opt for something that works.

The HBR article concludes that transient-advantage leaders, ones that will survive in turbulent times, recognize the need for speed. Fast and roughly right decision-making based on customer-centric data, will replace deliberations that are precise but slow. In a world where advantages last for five minutes, you can blink and miss the window of opportunity.  Don’t let these bad habits be the reason your business strategy and web presence optimization are not moving forward.