Are You an Authentic Fast Follower? Or are You Just Falling Faster and Faster Behind?
We’re not necessarily always first-to-market; but we’re fast followers!” How many times have you heard that? Many accolades go to those recognized for being first at something. Yet because first in innovation does not necessarily translate to being first in loyalty, profit, or some other bottom line measure we have dissonance about what stance is best for any one organization. Most importantly, many who claim to be ‘fast followers’ may no longer even be in the race at all.
Fast followers sound like prudent or even cunning competitors, particularly when budgets are tight, risk tolerance is restricted and innovations increasingly arrive at warp speed. Authentic fast followers can achieve success by quickly learning and adapting from the successes and failures of those who are at the front of the pack. Few organizations can —or even should —have the structure, financial wherewithal or fortitude to lead by going where no others have boldly gone before. The truth is that within any given market we have one or two clear leaders, with nearly everyone else claiming to be a fast follower. Here’s my unique perspective: authentic fast followers are those who use data to assess their market position, and then benefit by rapidly adapting in response.
So what’s a business leader to do in a world in which there’s only one or two who truly lead and so many others claiming to be fast followers?
The various dictionaries and experts agree that fast followers are those who rapidly adopt the behaviors of first movers, in order to achieve superior success via more sure-footed investments of time, money, or other assets. Surprisingly, even though the concept of fast followership is inherently about one’s market position–and reaction–in response to another’s, little attention is given to measurement. Yet if you can’t gauge who’s leading, what your relative position is, and other vital data about the competitive field, how can you compete effectively?
Authentic and successful fast followers choose their actions based on strategic measurement of market data revealing position, impact and effectiveness of response. First, measurement is what allows you to determine who’s truly leading and what your current position is relative to theirs. Second, strategic measurement is essential when assessing the benefit (essentially, the business case) that the leader might be realizing from their investment. This second measurement stage is also vital when spec’ing (or reverse-engineering, in competitive terms) and potentially building a competitive follow-on offering. Thirdly, authentic fast followers maintain ongoing measurement in order crucial to make the adjustments required to achieve ongoing success based on the actions of leaders in a particular product or feature category. As an optional fourth step, measurement data can be used to tout success for internal, external, or partner stakeholders.
Strategic measurement can empower any self-professed fast follower to become the real deal. In a world increasingly awash with data, I encounter very few who are truly "fast following" by measuring precise position, assessing related impact (the business case), and then adjusting action steps in direct response. In my work with senior executives, I find that many already have the requisite data, and yet what’s missing is the right strategic organization and action-focused reporting systems.
Just as not everyone can be the innovation leader, so too can there only be a few authentic (and effective) fast followers. I enjoy working with organizations at all stages to derive maximum benefit from the position that’s most appropriate for them: leader, fast follower, or even late adopter. Those who seek success as authentic fast followers must make measurement–in pragmatic and action-focused form– as essential as GPS or other gauges are to those on any other journey.