- It seems like the best way to find old success is to do more of what used to make you successful
- But lack of success is from market shifts, meaning you need to do more things
- Investing in what you know gets more expensive every year, with little (if any) improvement in returns
- To regain success it’s actually better to get out into new markets where you can compete with lower investment rates, generating more profitable sales
- Apple increased its sales of Macs not by focusing on Macs – but instead by becoming a winner in entirely different markets creating a feedback loop to the old, original “core”
MediaPost.com, in its article “Enterprise Sector Takes a Shine to Apple” has some remarkable statistics about Apple sales. At a time when most PC manufacturers, such as Dell and HP, are struggling to maintain even decent growth (even after the launch of upgraded Windows 7 and Office 2010) Apple is dramatically increasing its volume of Macs – and gaining market share. In last year’s second quarter:
- Mac sales jumped almost 50% in the business sector
- Mac sales jumped a whopping 200% in the government sector
- Mac sales rose over 31% in the home sector
- In Europe, Mac unit sales doubled their market share – and more than tripled their share in dollars
Yes, Macs are a small part of the market. Around 3.5% in the U.S. But, if you’re an Apple employee, supplier or investor that doesn’t matter, does it? In fact, it comes off sounding like a PC fan pooh-poohing a really astounding sales improvement. Nobody is saying the Mac will soon replace PCs (that’s more likely to happen via mobile devices where Apple has iPhone and iPad). But when you can dramatically increase your sales, especially as a $50B company, it’s a big deal.
The lesson for managers here is more unconventional. For years we’ve been told the way to grow your sales and profits is to “stick to your knitting.” To “protect your core.” The idea has been promoted that you should jettison anything that is a diversion to what you want to do best, and completely focus on what you select, and then try to out-compete all others with that product. If things don’t improve, then you need to get even more focused on your core, and invest more deeply. And hope the Mojo returns.
But that’s exactly the opposite of what Apple did. When almost bankrupt in 2001 Apple jettisoned multiple Mac products. It invested in music and entertainment products (iPod. iTouch and iTunes) to grab large sales with lower investment rates. It then rolled that success into developing the mobile computing/phone business with the iPhone and all those apps (some 250 thousand now and growing!). And it built on that success with a mobile tablet called the iPad. The Mac is now growing as a result of Apple’s success in all these other products creating a favorable feedback loop to the original “core”.
Apple spends less than 1/8th the money on R&D as Microsoft. And an even lesser amount on marketing, PR and sales. Yet, by entering new markets it gets far more “bang for its buck.” By entering new markets Apple is able to develop and launch new products, that sell in greater volumes and at higher profits, than had it stuck to being a “Mac company.” In fact, back when it only had 45 days of cash on hand, if it had stayed a “Mac company” Apple would have failed.
What we now see is that constantly re-investing in what you know drives down marginal rates of return. It keeps getting harder and harder, at ever greater cost, to drive new development and new sales with upgrades to old products. Look at the sales and profit problems at Sun Microsystems (world leader in Unix servers) and Silicon Graphics (world leader in graphics computers) and now Dell. What we’d like to think works at driving revenue and profits really raises new product costs and creates an easy target for new competitors who attack you as you sit there, all Locked-in to doing more of the same.
Contrarily, when you develop new products for new markets you grow revenues at lower cost, and thus higher profits. And you create a feedback loop that helps you get more sales without massive investments in your historical “core.” Think about Nike. It hasn’t been a “shoe company” for a very long time – but its shoes are greatly benefited by all the success Nike has in golf clubs and all those other products with a swoosh on them.
When confronted with a decision between “investing in the core” – or “protecting the mother ship” – or investing in new markets and solutions —- be very careful. Your “gut” may lead you to “in a blink” decide the obvious answer is to invest in what you know. But we are learning every quarter that this is a road to problems. You get more and more focused, and less and less prepared for the market shift that sent you into that “core focus” in the first place. Pretty soon you’re so far removed from the market you can’t survive – like Sun and SGI. It’s really a whole lot smarter to get out into new markets with White Space teams that can generate revenues with a lot less cost by being a smart, early competitor.