What business are you really in?

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We just learned Theodore Levitt--a business star, and influential business author--passed away this morning at his Massachusetts home. Yet, as they say, his legacy lives. Levitt popularized the notion of seeking a higher purpose beyond what you sell--because, hey, what if the wares you sell today become obsolete? What will you do then?

Do you really know what you sell?

His famous HBR article in 1960, entitled "Marketing Myopia", encouraged businesses to switch their focus from selling to meeting customer needs. He asked an important question to the railroad industry: What business are you really in? Railroads or transportation? Unfortunately, most companies that once thrived in the railroad industry preferred the latter term. And, preferring that led to extinction among most of those companies as cars soon swept people's lives. The question, "What business are you really in?", continues to be relevant today as it was almost 50 years ago.

Who today must learn from Levitt?

Just ask the struggling newspaper industry: Are you in the newspaper business, or are you in the information business? Most, as the railroad companies once did, will tell you they're the latter. The same notion applies to the airline, car, computer companies, and wherever else you see a dying industry. To succeed, your business must not focus on selling, but on providing solutions to your customers. When you focus on providing solutions, something awesome happens: your business product offerings will never become obsolete. Instead, they'll thrive toward meeting customer needs--no matter the era. Levitt taught us that. And, we thank him.

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Posted on June 29

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