Sunday, January 19, 2014

Customer vs. Strategy vs. Sales

I’d like to welcome Adrian Reed to my blog. We met as a result of our work as bloggers for the IBM Midsize Insider Program. Adrian is Principal Consultant and Director at Blackmetric Business Solutions based in Portsmouth, England about 70 miles from London. Hes passionate about helping organizations do business better. Connect with Adrian on Twitter ( and LinkedIn (, and check out his blog ( We recently discussed the importance of the customers voice and strategies in business, and this collaborative post is the result.

How often does your organization TRULY consider the customer before making a strategic decision? Many, if not most, organizations would answer that question with the response that they place the customer at the heart of what they do. Yet as companies grow and become more successful, it’s easy for the customer’s voice to get lost in day-to-day operations.

Companies may intend to represent and consider the customer’s viewpoint, but they rely on layers of management (many of whom may not have spoken to a genuine customer in years) to provide feedback on behalf of an increasingly complex and sophisticated customer base. In some scenarios, this may lead to new product launches that are initially considered successful (as they are on-time and on-budget) but are actually complete failures (since no one buys them).

What can be done to avoid these types of situations? The following tips can create better alignment between your business products/services/processes and your customers:

[1] Regularly ask: Who are our customers?: This simple question can be difficult to answer.  You might find that the recipient of your product/service is not the person who pays the bill. If you’re designing a new iteration of a parking meter, who is the customer? The user will be someone who parks a car. But the buyer will be a governmental entity, i.e., a city, that installs it. Each stakeholder may have different needs and different viewpoints. And those viewpoints will need to be balanced if the product/service is to be successful.

[2] Make sure those viewpoints are represented: Consider how the “voice of the customer” will be represented. Will you conduct focus groups? Will a particular team have the responsibility for surveying/interviewing customers and reporting back? How will you ensure that the views you get are both authentic and representative. Remember, people who volunteer for focus groups/interviews might not represent your TYPICAL or complete demographic.

[3] Balance Business Value and Customer Value: It’s crucial to create as much value as we can for our customers, but it’s vital not to lose sight of the fact that we’re in business to make a profit. Therefore, it’s important to keep sight of the business strategy, direction and profitability requirements. Ask any economy passenger on a transatlantic flight what he or she would like, and a common response may be “More leg room and endless glasses of champagne for no additional cost.” Yet, how can these additions be provided within the parameters of the existing airline business model?

[4] Innovate: Businesses and business models need to evolve. Keep track of your external business environment, know what is changing, and determine how to respond. Don’t get left behind!

If you learn from and apply these tips to your business, the insights you gain will lead to successful strategic planning. In today’s highly competitive market, so many businesses, in fact, too many businesses, are flying by the seat of their pants without the benefit of strategic plans.

Consider this recent experience: I (Debbie) visited an office supply store. At check-out, the employee rang up my purchases and made an error. She rang up two items at the same price, but they had different prices. When I pointed out the error politely, she ignored me as she went through the process for the price correction. How did that make me feel as a customer? First, there was no way that I was going to pay the incorrect higher price. Second, I did not receive a sincere apology. And third, my voice was not heard. Imagine how I would have felt if the employee had said, “Oh my, I apologize for not paying attention. We (at name of store) value your business. Let me see if my manager can give you a 10% coupon for a future visit.” It is abundantly clear that this office supply store has no understanding of the importance of either the customer experience or customer voice.

Or consider this recent experience: I (Debbie) visited a women’s clothing store. While the store has a retail and online presence, like many people who make online purchases on a regular basis, I like the in-person experience when possible. I entered the store and immediately noticed three employees standing off to the side. None of them acknowledged me with words or body language. None welcomed me. Nothing. I continued to walk around the store and found some items that I liked so I took them into the dressing room. Once I was about to enter the dressing room area, a fourth employee walked over to me and introduced herself. She told me that if I had any questions, I should ask her. When I was ready to leave the store and purchase one item, I walked over to the cash register/check out area. There was no one there. In fact, there was no one anywhere in the store. I didn’t even see the three employees who had ignored me when I entered the store. There is no surprise, then, that I dropped the sweater I had intended to purchase on the counter and left. Without a doubt, this visit was not the kind of customer experience I want to repeat. In fact, I just may write a letter to the CEO of the company. How else will this store remain in business?

So, memorize the title of this blog post (Customer vs. Strategy vs. Sales) because it can help your business to focus time and again on what’s important. If your leadership team places itself into the shoes of your customer or customers, and you re-evaluate your strategies on a regular basis, your sales will increase. And who doesn’t want that?

Image Credit: Stuart Miles from

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