Opportunities and threats: What’s in store for your company?

Last month my colleague Laurie Breitner wrote about strengths and weaknesses. In that post , she outlined considerations to help in developing an honest understanding of capabilities and gaps inside a business. My post today extends that discussion to sorting out opportunities and threats. As with strengths and weaknesses, it’s important to assess both in the context of mission, vision, current objectives, and competition.

Here are three fundamental challenges that many companies face when identifying and assessing opportunities and threats:

• Significant opportunities and threats can easily be disregarded unless a systematic effort is made to make them visible. When a company is caught up in day-to-day demands, longer-term opportunities such as exponential growth in an underserved part of the market or new needs of current customers can simply go unnoticed. Threats such as emerging competition or declines in important target markets may easily be overlooked as well.

• It can sometimes be difficult to determine what constitutes an opportunity, a threat, or both. For example, a restaurant can actually do better when competitors move nearby, creating a restaurant district in the minds of customers. Potential partners can simultaneously be competitors. New regulations may pose hurdles for your company but also discourage others from entering the marketplace.

• How you define your business can result in identification of different opportunities and threats. If you define yourself as a regional business, you may overlook opportunities nationally or globally. If you define yourself as being in the restaurant business rather than in the food business, you may overlook opportunities such as selling prepared meals to go, catering, or a bottled version of your special salad dressing.

Here are some questions to regularly ask to uncover opportunities and threats:

What are the important quantitative and qualitative trends in the marketplace in which we operate now or might operate in the future?

What are the important quantitative and qualitative trends in our industry?

What new needs might our customers and potential customers have in the future?

How would an economic downturn or upswing change the behavior of our customers, potential customers, partners, suppliers, and competitors?

How might the competitive landscape change over the next five years?

How might new technologies change our markets and industry going forward?

Do new inquiries, our sales, or other experiences reveal any unexpected customer needs, successes or disappointments?

Why do our customers, partners and suppliers choose to do business with us? Will their reasons continue to be valid going forward?

What unmet or underserved needs do our customers (or others) have that we might address in the future?

What untapped external resources are available to help our company?

Are there new rules, regulations, certifications, or standards that will make it easier or harder for us in the future?

Let us know what other question have you found useful when identifying and analyzing opportunities and threats. Next time, Laurie and I will discuss consideration of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in combination to help you make good decisions about how to develop your business going forward.

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