In last week’s SalesPulse I posed a number of questions and gave the results of some recent research. That research is incredibly important because it tells you what the one thing you should focus on, and that is your customers. The questions were there to help you see how customer centric you in your role are, and if you had answered “for your colleagues”, you would have a view as to how customer centric your company is.
If you answered the questions honestly it is possible that they looked like mine in red below. Here are the questions with my answers:
If you are a managing director (or chief executive), chairman (or chairperson), or board member other than sales/marketing director please answer these questions:
 – Write down the names of your top ten customers, when you last saw them, and when you next plan to. Some visits will have been made. No future plan exists or is sketchy at best.
– At your last board meeting how much of the time did you take discussing your customers? Customers are discussed only in the context of the business forecast.
 If you are a sales and/or marketing director:
– How much of your time is used discussing business matters with your customers? Less than 10%.
– When was the last time you spent as much time with customers as you do managing numbers? Some years ago.
 If you are a sales person:
– How much time do you invest in customer research? Less than 10%.
– In the last year how many unsolicited or proactive proposals have you discussed with your customers? One at best.
If you are a business owner:
– How much of your time is invested in your customers? When the day job permits.
– How do you measure customer satisfaction? Informally, or if it becomes an issue.
It could be that I am just a sceptic or wanting to make a point, and there is probably some truth in that. However, my observations over the last ten years support my comments. But why is it important that organisations become customer centric? For a start I  would promote the expression customer intimate which roughly relates to “understanding your customers’ business better than they do”. There are only three forms of differentiation (source Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema) and they are.
 – Operational Excellence (most efficient e.g. Dell, FedEx and Walmart)
 – Technical Leadership (most innovative e.g. Intel and Apple)
 – Customer intimate (customer and market knowledge e.g. PwC, Grant Thornton)
As I am sure you realise the best price today may not be tomorrow, ask any UK supermarket; the best technology today may not be tomorrow ask Apple as Samsung are fast catching up. Aah, but Apple’s brand is stronger you say, and I agree but brands can be easily damaged ask Anderson’s (RIP) and Volkswagon. The only sustainable source of differentiation is customer intimacy. It requires an investment in time to become part of the customer’s DNA.
As far back as 2007, The SalesPulse Issue 15 espoused that customer intimacy was the way ahead as it facilitated proactive value selling rather than reactive transactional selling. The SalesPulse Issue 25 in the same year said that commoditisation was here to stay. There is no doubt that the procurement profession is absolutely focused on commoditising all those things that you believe your customers value and that make you different. There are some things that they cannot commoditise and they are your customer and market knowledge, your business relationships and your ability to generate value that is appreciated by the board.
There is nothing more simple than doing just one thing, in this case it is focusing on your customers. It brings many direct and unexpected benefits which we’ll explore next time.