By Mike Wright

Focus on your customer now… more than ever. Period.

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February 14, 2011 | Categories: Articles & Insights

As you look at the challenges that businesses of all industries constantly fixate on, not many are more acute right now than the challenge of gaining and sustaining a level of sales growth that satisfies stakeholders. That's hard to do in our current economic  reality. REALLY hard.Consumers are spending less, and therefore businesses can’t spend as much.  And when businesses can’t spend as much, they have to make cuts to maintain profits (profits being the largest driver of stock-price…and stock price going up is what shareholders and boards are demanding). Customers recognize these cuts when their service diminishes (the business reduced headcount), store locations shut down (the business consolidated locations), or when products lack innovations and standout features (the business pushed projects out). These cuts impact a business's long-term ability to be relevant to the very customers that they're trying to sell to. Kind of a vicious cycle, isn’t it?

This cycle is justified by businesses who tell themselves,“we just have to white-knuckle our way through this in the short-term," or “these cuts won’t really hurt the customer.” Others feel as though their hands are tied,“our shareholders are demanding cuts so we don’t have a choice.”

The temptation is to rationalize that a small cut here - a little slice there - won’t hurt a business's ability to get and keep the customers that they desperately need to achieve sales growth. Such myopic thinking misses the point… the customer is the way out of this cycle.

So, what now?  What can you do to help maintain the exact thing that will keep a company viable, a shareholder happy, and actually help a company grow with so little growing these days?

Focus on your customer now…
more than ever. Period.

Here's one idea: On a monthly, maybe even weekly, basis take an inventory of your ability to exceeded your customer’s expectations by answering four questions:

  1. Who’s your most important customer?
    Write it down and post it on your wall where you can see it.
  2. What do they most want from you?
    Write that down too. Share your answer to this question with your customer (or ask your customer to answer this question for you).
  3. How are you doing currently?
    Grade yourself on how you are doing on #2 and ask your customer to give you a grade too.  See how close your assessment is to theirs.
  4. What will you do from here?
    Write-down 2 action items that you will do this month to improve your score (and if you don’t have answers for #2 and #3, then getting those answers should be your starting point).

Answering these 4 questions consistently will help you win in a time when there aren’t many winners. Today, it's not enough to merely meet a customer's expectations - you have to exceed them, and even anticipate them. As Drucker famously wrote, “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer."This adage is as true today as it has ever been, and it's a sure-fire way to practice your business acumen to gain and sustain sales growth in a down economy.