Whether or not a business has a customer culture boils down to if it is internally focused or externally driven. The difference between these two perspectives can have a significant impact on the degree of success a business sees over its lifetime.
The two approaches can be categorized in many ways: head down versus head up, product-centric versus market-centric, competency-based versus opportunity-based—no matter the moniker, it all comes down to whether the organization is able to identify consumer needs, foresee market changes and capitalize on business opportunities before the competition.
In an internally focused organization, the emphasis is on product development and improvement as a source of sales growth. The company is defined by its internal skills. It structures its internal processes and procedures to get the most out of its core set of competencies. Major markers of this perspective are organizational charts with functional silos, marketing strategies that remain constant year after year and a lack of market research as a tool for product development, process improvement and customer service.
On the other (more successful) hand, an externally motivated company develops its marketing strategies around consumer needs, current and future market conditions, and changes in the competitive landscape. With an eye outside the organization, management can see change coming and make strategic decisions that keep them ahead of the competition.
When a company understands not only what it can make, but also what its consumers need, it shift its internal focus from products to solutions. With this shift, organizations can find ways to restructure their departments and teams from cumbersome, functional silos to streamlined cross-functional teams, placing a priority on collaboration, problem solving and improving the customer experience. By redefining itself from a product maker to a solution provider, a company can open doors to innovation, see new opportunities and create a more fluid organization that can keep pace with market trends.
Monitoring the market for changes and fluctuations in trends not only gives a business a grasp on how it needs to alter its position or offering, but it also provides management with ongoing awareness into what factors have the most impact on the market and helps it develop more insightful and educated forecasting. This also includes knowledge around other business and market influences such as technological advances, consumer lifestyle changes and economic fluctuations. The goal is to become so entrenched in the marketplace and the factors that affect it that a company can identify opportunities in enough time to capitalize on them and recognize threats in enough time to dodge them.
The competition is constantly changing with companies moving in and out, products progressing through their life cycle and new marketing strategies playing out across various communication platforms. Understanding strategic moves that competitors are making or might make can position a company well to react.
An externally driven, customer focused business perspective is built on systemic market research. It’s not something a business does only in the startup phase or when a new product is in development; it is an ongoing investment that is made to continually monitor what’s going on outside the walls of the business. The data gleaned should influence the marketing and communications strategies and be used to inform the product development process.
With a focus on developing solutions that consumers need, a company’s marketing strategy should continue to evolve and adapt in response to the knowledge that is gathered from the market research. This agile strategy should work as a roadmap with its objectives, estimates and execution being measured on a regular basis. Likewise, the SWOT analysis that outlines the company’s strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats should be assessed on a regular basis and incorporate any new findings from the most recent research conducted. This consistent monitoring and adjusting will position a company to take swift advantage of opportunities that arise throughout the year.
Having a customer centric culture is about keeping your head up and an eye on the game.
Customer needs shift as life changes. Markets evolve and competition increases. The ability to integrate this external knowledge into business decisions and strategy development, to stay curious instead of getting comfortable, and to focus product development on the needs of the customer will go a long way in beating out the competition.