Venture capitalists are circling
If lots of venture investment is going into companies that sound like they might be part of your industry -- but aren't exactly—then watch out. This means that outsiders see opportunity in your sector, and are coming at it from new angles.
You're using technology to cut costs, rather than create value
Customers understand that investments in technology allow companies to decrease overhead and personnel, and generally to do business more cheaply. But an industry that uses technology only for these purposes, and doesn't leverage it to improve customer experiences, is in danger of blindsiding.
Your customers are getting older
Perhaps your product or service works just fine for those who are already comfortable with it. But if your customers have steadily been getting older, the chances are that your industry is not delivering in a way that appeals to Millennials. Someone who figures out a more user-friendly way to deliver the same offering will win the Millennial market. Over time, older customers will appreciate the ease-of-use, and gravitate to the upstart, too.
Your service is very high-touch
PIf you've got a lot of customers who spend a lot of time getting guidance from your staff, chances are that much of that interaction could be automated. There may even be a new group of customers – again, Millennials – that would prefer to get their information digitally rather than in a one-on-one human interaction. In the financial services industry, for example, the idea of a "robo-advisor" to help manage one's finances initially sounded like a joke a decade ago. Now so-called robo-advisors represent a legitimate threat to the financial services establishment.
Your customer satisfaction is low
If customers are sticking with you mostly because they don't have many choices, you should be worried. You may have been temporarily protected by barriers to entry, such as complex regulations or the necessity of making massive investments in order to truly compete. As Uber and AirBnB have shown, technology can trump these – quickly.
Disruptors such as Uber prey on complacency – on industries that haven't bothered to innovate, or to embrace technology, often because it simply seemed like too much trouble and because their customers had few other choices. But as the cost of technology drops and its effectiveness increases, the barriers that had shielded some of these sectors from dramatic change are increasingly being breached. If that sounds like your business, it's time to innovate – or watch an outsider do it for you.