Imagine that you decided to temporarily shut down your business. You made this decision because you knew something major could go wrong and, despite some efforts, you didn’t make as much progress as you hoped. So, you temporarily closed without knowing how long “temporarily” would be.

Three months later, you have made big changes. Massive, ginormous, monumental changes. Changes to foundational elements of your business. You discontinued a beloved product, made existing products safer and expanded a controversial product.

Now, imagine that the press followed all of this. They reported on every meeting, speculated on every discussion, and critiqued every statement. They even said you should be fired.

But now, today, you announced that you’re open for business. All the problems are solved, and all the changes rolled out. The press celebrated, and articles, podcasts, and news stories heralded your business’ re-opening.

Your customers yawned. 

They didn’t miss you.

Many didn’t even know you were gone.

A True Story

You just read the story of Major League Baseball at the end of its 99-day lockout.

But it could also be the story of your business if you make the same mistake MLB did in December, which is the same mistake it has made for the past 20+ years.

It forgot what business it’s in.

MLB thinks it’s in the baseball business. For some customers, diehard fans, it is. But for most, baseball is in the business of helping customers to:

  • Make memories
  • Have fun
  • Feel connected to others
  • Be entertained
  • Drink beer and eat junk food without guilt

These are the Jobs to be Done that customers hire baseball to do for them. But there are dozens of other businesses offering to do the same Jobs, many in ways that are lower cost and more easily accessible. And fans are taking their business to those competitors.

According to Statista, the average per game attendance was 18,900 in 2021, a 34% decline from 2019. Even more troubling than this “generational low” is that people aren’t even watching baseball at home, evidenced by the 12% decline in TV viewership for games.

Customers are rejecting baseball. They just don’t care about it as much as they used to. As a result, they’re spending less time and less money on it and finding newer and better alternatives.

3 Questions to Figure Out if You’re Out (or In)

This story isn’t unique to MLB. It’s the story at the core of many failed businesses. The outward view of solving customers’ problems gives way to an increasingly inward-facing view of the business the business is in.

The story isn’t fast-paced or obvious, either. The declines happen slowly – average gameday attendance dropped only 367 people annually from 2012 to 2019, a decrease that’s easy to miss when considering that the average MLB ballpark holds 43,000 people. 

But once the decline starts and apathy sets in, it is challenging to change the story. But not impossible.

If you want customers to care about you again, to need you and your products the way they used to, you need to care more about your customers than your business. You need to ask three questions:

1. “Why do you choose us?” (in Innovation-speak this translates to, “What are your Jobs to be Done?”)

2. “When you don’t choose us, who do you choose and why?”

Then you must listen. Really listen. To EVERYTHING customers say. The reasons you want to hear and the ones you don’t,  The competitors you know and the ones you least expect. The things that make them better that you know and the ones you don’t agree with.

Then, and only then, do you look inward at your operations and business model and ask.

3. “What business are we in?”

Are your operations set up to deliver delight to customers or maximum efficiency to your business? Is your business model set up to create value for customers or maximize profit for you? Are you increasing the size of bases 3 inches and claiming its safer or doing everything possible to reduce the game’s length and increase its fun factor?

It’s not customer rejection that kills a business. It’s customer apathy.

Don’t allow your customers to become apathetic. They cared about your business once. Keep giving them reasons to care by asking what they care about and delivering it.

How do you make sure that you’re in the right business?