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February 8, 2012

Customer-Centric Culture

by marcobuchbinder

They say that the simple things in life are often those that get forgotten or overlooked, and this statement could not be any truer for a customer-centric culture.

Regardless of the type of business that you are in, your business’ primary goal is to offer a product or service to a set of customers, right? The more focus your company has on your customers and prospects, the greater understanding and knowledge that you will acquire about them, which should translate in developing the most accurate, appropriate and valuable offering for them. In turn, this should lead to strong sales, high customer satisfaction and recurring business.

Now, you may think that what I have just described is Business 101 or so obvious that it doesn’t deserve to be mentioned, but this very point is often overlooked from startups to Fortune 500’s. 

Some well-known sales quotes that you have probably heard that emphasize a customer centric approach are: “He/she who knows the customer best, wins” or the “The customer is king.” Dick Egan, founder of EMC, would often remind those of us in sales that “we are born with 2 ears and 1 mouth, so use them proportionally!”

I meet regularly with entrepreneurs who seem to always focus on the product development, application features, business model, financing…everything but customer development. So when I ask them to demonstrate to me the customer discovery/validation processes, they look at me dumbfounded or they take a more casual attitude towards it.

Here’s what I ask: What are your customer’s pain points and/or objectives that you are addressing with your offering? How do they use it…literally (when do they access it, why, how often)? How much time have they spent in interviewing customers, partners and anyone else within their ecosystem? Have these discussions been part of a planned, process-focused set of interviews or have they been casual, informal discussions? How regularly do they re-engage with the customer to validate the product/service as it is being developed? Is there some form of cadence? Do they have a customer advisory council?

A customer-centric culture applies not only to startups but to any sized company. For instance, I have known several companies (F500s) that lost touch with their customers/markets (or have become “unaligned” from their markets, in consulting speak). They have required the help of consulting firms to assist them in re-establishing who their customers are, how to segment them by customer size or industry, and how to restructure their GTM org. In fact, one of the principle reasons why companies go off track is that they stop taking the time to listen to the customer and to integrate their input within the walls and functions of their company.

Companies must approach prospects, customers and markets in the same disciplined manner as we approach any type of other functional planning process. Build the product and “they will come,” unfortunately, does not work.

Whether you are developing your annual plan, setting MBOs, developing a long-term strategy plan, considering to invest in a start up or acquiring a business, start with the end in mind. In another words, start (and finish) with the customer in mind. Every business is in “business” to address customer problems, needs and wants, so always come back to the customer and his/her needs to calibrate and align your goals to their requirements.

Photo Sources: Express Yourself to Success

Universal Funding

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