Most business leaders stress the importance of understanding and responding to ever-changing customer needs to stay relevant and competitive. Yet why do so many companies spend the majority of their time focusing inward?
We recently surveyed 50 business executives to understand their organizations’ strategic priorities. Among their top five, “customer” was by far the most-mentioned word. But the majority of these companies weren’t utilizing customer insights in their major business decisions and core processes – only customer-facing ones. That is, in four out of five companies, customer insights were only used to provide input to sales and marketing and did not directly impact their larger strategic agenda.
So how do companies end up so isolated, even from their own customers?
Think back on the last few “leadership” or “planning” meetings you attended. How much of the time was spent discussing internal issues and perspectives rather than external realities? In how many instances did customer insights change the opinion in the room?
This is Company Gravity – the cultural pull that drives organizations to focus inward on their own perspectives and focus on the company’s interests and preferences over emerging customer needs. It is Company Gravity that creates organizational stagnation, resistance to change, and fear of the new – instead, clinging to the status quo.
Company Gravity causes internal processes, policies, and systems to take priority over external forces, market share, and customer experiences. Of course, every company needs to ensure they’re following protocols, have checks and balances, and keep consistent with how business is done. But unless you are Walmart, you don’t have the luxury to simply force every customer and supplier to conform to the way you do things. You don’t have the luxury to only control costs to generate growth.
An external perspective is essential to gain an advantage over the competition and get ahead of future risks. Getting the right insights in the door is crucial. This means looking beyond the obvious customer feedback and accessing new and underexploited data sources. It means learning to separate customer signals from noise. It means doing it not just sufficiently but better than the competition can. It means organizing customer insights so that they are easily accessible to all parts of the company and can be integrated into decision-making beyond the sales and marketing functions. It means reinforcing a customer-centric mindset and behavior by tying organizational performance metrics to the customer experience. (In fact, Amazon has nearly 80% of their performance metrics tied to the customers)
Overcoming Company Gravity is not an easy feat, but it is essential for a company’s long-term survival. The more you engage with customers, the clearer the opportunities become and the easier it is to determine what your gravity-strapped competitors are overlooking.
About the Author
Andrea Belk Olson is a keynote speaker, author, differentiation strategist, behavioral scientist, and customer-centricity expert. As the CEO of Pragmadik, she helps organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500, and has served as an outside consultant for EY and McKinsey. Andrea is the author of three books, including her most recent, What To Ask: How To Learn What Customers Need but Don’t Tell You, released in June 2022.
She is a 4-time ADDY® award winner and host of the popular Customer Mission podcast. Her thoughts have been continually featured in news sources such as Chief Executive Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, Harvard Business Review, Rotman Magazine, World Economic Forum, and more. Andrea is a sought-after speaker at conferences and corporate events throughout the world. She is a visiting lecturer and startup coach at the University of Iowa, a TEDx presenter, and TEDx speaker coach. She is also an instructor at the University of Iowa Venture School.