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The current climate and the need for customer centricity

Every so often, something fundamental changes in the way the best of us do business. The consequences of ignoring these changes — not getting with the program — are a lot more significant than a couple of slow quarters; they mean being taken out of the game entirely.

In 1910, Henry Ford triggered one of these changes when he applied scientific method to manufacturing. Measurement, hypothesis testing, and data-driven decision making transformed his business, unlocking never-before-seen efficiencies and bottom-line value. From that point on, the objective use of data has become a non-negotiable tool. It’s hard to imagine a world without it.

In the mid-1900s, innovative managers and academics realised that companies could increase organisational resilience and reduce lead-time for training new staff. How? By rigorously documenting every system and process needed to operate. This took reliance on the individual out of the equation, and gave rise to two things: first, the professional manager, who now could spend all her time ensuring adherence to documented systems; and second, to scale. Bureaucracy, heralded as a revolution, gave rise to the corporate behemoths we know today.

The most recent new variable, the internet, changed the game again. Unlike previous developments, the locus of change was not in the way businesses choose to operate, but in how customers choose to buy. It means exponentially more and exponentially more accessible information, which means businesses have exponentially less control of their own narratives. Why pay attention to any feature description written by a company, when entire forums exist to debate how certain products actually impact customer lives? When building brand equity, do you think your website holds a candle to Instagram?

Responding to the internet revolution means much more than simply having a webpage. Your customers don’t just want another way to receive your marketing – the way they approach the buying process has changed entirely. Grasping this fact — and reorganising the way you conduct business accordingly — is critical.

Where the old buyer was informed by product marketing, the modern buyer has unbiased peer experiences. The old buyer received product in whatever way was logistically optimal for the company to deliver it; today’s buyer goes to the business that makes the whole process easiest. The old buyers were boomers building a home to nest in; today’s buyer is millennial, and designs a lifestyle around their identity.

The old buyer was value in a field, waiting to be farmed. The new buyer is value running around, needing to be hunted. To win with the modern buyer, your organisation needs to be as nimble as your customers are fickle; it needs to be geared towards customer delight above all else, and it needs to sell in ways they are comfortable buying. You need to become ruthlessly, unapologetically customer-centric.

It’s worth looking to the startup world. The best startups I’ve worked with live and breathe customer-centricity; they are founded with laser focus on meeting a single, specific customer need, and build every step of their operation around satisfying that. You might be losing business to startups already. The reason customer-centricity makes these startups effective is not that they’re immediately right. It’s that when they’re wrong, they are able to change almost instantaneously. Their organisations are geared around iteration and rapid learning, and they discard any process or team that gets in the way of this. Workflow is structured so that everybody — not just management and sales reps — feels it when they get it wrong. Startups are perfectly designed to serve the modern customer, and they have no qualms about taking your business from you.

You need to able to beat startups at their own game. To begin, it’s worth looking at new product development process — what room does it have for error and iteration? Think about your people — how focused are the teams, and how integrated are they? Consider performance objectives — are they process or outcome driven? What do people feel when the organisation fails? What is your product philosophy — is it to find a customer for technology you develop, or is it to build product for customers you find?

The benefits of customer centricity are significant. Faster product development cycles, higher success rates of new product in market, better retention rates, and a real answer to those pesky startups.

Your customers are waiting for you to look after them, and are happy to give you their money — if you’ve earned it.

Jing Seth

Marketing engineering and advanced analytics

A quantitative analyst who also has deep experience in taking complex propositions to market, Jing has sold to high-tech start-ups, national defense agencies and Fortune100 corporates. He has codified winning processes, and designed and led specialist sales teams. In his most recent role he rebuilt the growth engine from scratch and closed deals that ended a 12-month sales drought for the company.

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