There are some common themes that run through my posts on this blog. Among them is the concept that we should be customer and/or client focused as a company. I’ve often spoken to sales teams about as well as organized teams to break the mold of sales being product oriented and instead be more focused on what the customer wants. So I read with interest the article “Rethinking Marketing,” in the January/February Issue of the Harvard Business Review.
The premise of the article is that things have changed. We should no longer be hiring and elevating “Product Managers.” Instead, the authors (Roland T. Rust, Christine Moorman, and Gaurav Bhalla) suggest that we have Chief Customer Officers (CCOs). It is critical, however, that this person not be under the impression that they simply have to try and raise customer awareness in the organization. Instead, this person must be empowered to make organizational changes to actually create focus on the customer’s needs – not the products we have to sell so go and make a market. The CCO, it follows, must report directly to the CEO and be able to influence organizational structure, resource allocation and especially R&D efforts. One of the major changes in the large institution will be to have R&D report to the CCO – think you can get that one through the mill?
The authors point out that many of the big B2B companies and some of the larger B2C companies are pretty good at creating customer focus. And they have been VERY successful. And while I have grown weary of all the “C-Suite” positions we seem to be creating (Chief Technology Officer, Chief Learning Officer, Chief Creative Officer, Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Customer Officer, etc.), I do agree with the authors’ push to get us back to focusing on what customers want and need versus development of nifty new products and services that have no real market or simply confuse the clients.
But what does all this mean to smaller companies? We don’t have the resources – and we certainly don’t have all the “Chiefs of Everything,” – we only have very few executives and hopefully a bunch of really good high performing employees to get the work done. I don’t think this is very hard. I think crying about a lack of resources, time, size, or any one of a number of other excuses are just that – excuses. The small business entity has a culture just like any other organization. If that culture, usually instilled by the owner/founder and in bigger organizations by the management team, is solidly focused on the customer then we will not have to worry about a product manager “not getting it.” The trick is,of course, to shape the corporate culture in such a way as to make that happen.
What will you do in the coming year to make sure you are not pushing products, features and services that have to be sold instead of finding out what your customers are dying to buy? How will you shape the culture to make sure ALL employees are focused on satisfying the customer? Will you continue to be product /service oriented and expect that things will just get better and “back to business as usual?” How do you spell “denial”?