I had an interesting conversation this morning with a client. His company is loaded with people who want to do the same thing they have always done. In their minds, it’s working. In their minds, it’s the way things should be. These people are complacent, secure in their jobs, and centered on what they are supposed to be doing, in their own tried-and-true way of doing it.

Except for these realities: 1) The company is not growing. In fact, it’s barely holding firm. 2) The customers are doing new things and looking for new solutions but the “stagnators” (as they shall henceforth be called) aren’t listening, aren’t paying attention, and are absolutely not giving their clients credit for wanting to learn new things.

I’ve been mulling that over in my head here today, in the background, while I’ve been doing some other things. I checked in on LinkedIn and saw an article titled “Amazon eating Whole Foods is nothing—entire industries are about to become toast.” The comments were interesting, ranging from “they should have seen it coming” to “they did could not understand why I would rent a movie for a dollar at a grocery store, and they should have – four kids, one income.”

It all came together for me then. Complacency. Drifting along in a bubble of success, not paying attention to the landscape, the signs of coming disruption, or the words of the customers.

The companies cited in this article might as well be mobile homeowners in Kansas, not ever listening to the weather report, not building a storm shelter, not looking out the windows. They won’t know a tornado is there until it is too late.



I see the same thing in marketing. A good friend recently bought the hardware store in our little downtown area, and he’s excited because his advertising is bringing in more customers – as he should be.

But why is he content with that? What if he could do BETTER marketing – and double, triple, or quadruple the results he is seeing today? Why wouldn’t he do that?

Why do companies content themselves with sending out email blast after email blast for “this is on sale” or “here’s our weekly special” when they could do so much more (without spending a ton more time, either) and get so much better results?

As humans, we like sticking with what we know, what we can do easily based on our experiences to date, and when we see results from doing what is easy for us to do, it’s hard to think about doing something that might take MORE work without knowing exactly how it’s going to pay off. I get that.

But… what if the other nearby hardware store starts doing a great job of proactively marketing to its customers? Where will my friend be then? Hoping that people see his ad, and are driving by and decide to stop in? What does this mean for his business over time?

It means that the other nearby hardware store is likely to become his personal tornado, and he won’t know it until he is caught up in it.


Complacency: This is working. Why would I consider changing it?

Success, today and in the future, is contingent on addressing the needs of your customers. They’re not all ready to buy today. They’re not all ready to become your customer today. By and large, they want guidance. They want to do business with people they know, like, and trust.

Constantly contacting your potential customers (if you’re even doing that much) with sales and promos without adding any value beyond the price tag means that price is the only value you’re offering.

Customers, given no other choice, will always buy on price. Which means that, while my local hardware store might be able to sell me everything I need to get my project done, I may not even know it, and the stuff I need might not be on sale, so I might as well go to the local big-box store and buy it for less.

See what I mean?

Complacency is the Enemy of Success

Competition is changing. The business environment is changing constantly. Most importantly, though, the expectations of our customers are constantly changing.

If I can go online, electronically pick what I want from the virtual hardware store, pay for it with my credit card, drive up and honk the horn and everything gets put in my trunk, the sale my local guy is running on light bulbs isn’t going to make a hill of beans worth of difference to me.

If I can get business advice from listening to podcasts rather than attending in-person events, wouldn’t I do it? (So, why aren’t more business people podcasting and advertising those podcasts well?)

If I can learn to trust an organization because they’re always straight with me, provide me with valuable information that’s aligned with my interests, and don’t put the high-pressure sales on me, wouldn’t I want to do that?

Whether you’re a hardware store owner or a business consultant or a company that sells private airplanes to the 1%, it’s easy to fall into the trap of complacency.

Sooner, or later, you’ll be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that the same old way will just keep working. And then we’ll have flying cars, and where will your airplane company be then?

We’ve got to listen to our customers, understand what they really want, anticipate what they don’t know they will want based on what we see happening in other industries and other businesses around us, and form a success plan that removes the possibility that we might become irrelevant.

Shake off complacency before it takes hold and leads us all down the wrong path.