In 1995, I read a book called Discipline of Market Leaders by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema. This publication was highly lauded, and I know I followed the hypothesis set out in the subtitle of the book – Choose your customers, Narrow your focus, Dominate your market – in each of the companies I’ve run over the past 15 years. The more specific message of this excellent book was that a company had to choose one Value Discipline, and excel at that discipline. The choices of Product Leadership, Customer Intimacy and Operational Excellence are easy to understand, and the authors set out cogent arguments as to why one of these must take prominence; the others being relegated to less important consideration.
I don’t believe their thesis is valid any longer.
Since The TAS Group was founded (2005), I think we’ve done a pretty good job at achieving Product Leadership in the sales effectiveness market. Our methodologies in Opportunity Management and Account Management – rich and competitive in capability when we bought the business from Oracle in 2006 – have continuously been improved. Our Dealmaker Intelligent Sales Performance software platform, is I believe, unique in the sustained value it delivers to our customers. We are frequently complimented by our customers on the quality of our global network of experienced consultants who support the delivery of our sales effectiveness solutions around the world. Combining all of these (and recognizing that I’m completely biased) we could credibly claim to have a Product Leadership position. Indeed we been acknowledged as such by ES Research for each year since their ranking began. But is this enough? I don’t think so.
Here’s the thing. For about the last 5 years, I’ve been of the opinion that Customer Intimacy, as a primary business discipline is not optional. No matter whether you’ve got the best widget or consulting service in the world, or not, providing a world-class customer experience needs to be your primary reason for being.
If you can’t afford to resource for customer delight – then you should reduce your marketing spend, and re-allocate funds accordingly. Generating leads is a waste of money if you can’t service your customers. In fact customer service is really the new marketing.
If, in your product development organization, you have competing product features vying for funds, you must resolve that tension by asking the question “which feature will deliver most value to my customer?” and let that be your sole arbiter for product management.
As you know, when the the volcano erupted in Iceland last month, millions of people were stranded around the world. When Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Ryanair (the low fares airline, and a model of Operational Excellence) said he was not going to compensate anyone for the inconvenience, it wasn’t just the volcano that was fuming (sorry!). Sentiment on Twitter erupted (sorry again!) and the fall-out was explosive. (OK I will stop the puns now.) Within 24 hours there was a remarkable u-turn.
The old adage of ‘Customer is King’ is more relevant today than ever before, and one of the main reasons for that today is the rapid growth of Social Networks and the evolving development in Social CRM. Paul Greenberg (his exceptional blog is here) writes of Social CRM as a business strategy and philosophy but more particularly refers to it as ‘a company’s response to customer’s ownership of the conversation’.
If you’re to believe Axel Schultze (another wonderful resource), there is a dramatic change in the behavior of buyers, and the sale process needs to be fundamentally reconsidered – once again acknowledging that the customer has taken control – this time of the buying/selling engagement. Axel would suggest that the old model of reference selling is broken, and that everything is determined by the customer experience, not just after a sale, but more particularly in recognition of a tectonic shift in the actions of a buyer before a sales engagement begins.
The triad of social media, economic volatility, and increasing buyer sophistication in the marketplace, have combined to throw down the gauntlet, and bar has been raised. The discipline of market leaders is now a multi-faceted one. You need to have the best product. To scale your business in an increasing agile environment you need to be operationally excellent. But both of these disciplines must be guided by the sustained value you deliver to your customers – before, during, and after the sale. Product features must be prioritized in collaboration with your customers. Operational efficiencies should be designed to deliver cost savings, ease the buying process, or transfer operational benefit to your customers.
The prerequisites of survival have evolved, and the attributes of tomorrow’s market leaders are uncompromising in each of the three dimensions of Customer Intimacy, Operational Excellence, and Product Leadership – all guided by the vision of delighting your customers.
Delighting your customers is not optional.