Putting customers into sharp focus for effective shifts in service quality and business outcomes

Why do customers choose to spend their money with you?

What exactly do you have to be good at to gain loyal clients?

What can you do to craft and maintain points of difference that really matter?

Most employees usually don’t think of themselves as being involved in “strategy”. Strategy is one of those business bull words that has the effect of turning people away and turning people off.

Our view of strategy is straightforward – it’s the constant effort of putting purpose into effect in the real world. You might not be involved in producing the shiny plan with the shiny consultants – but if the plan is worth a damn, you’re involved in making it real.

And if it’s like every other plan we’ve ever seen, it doesn’t work in the real world like it looked in the powerpoint pack.

Stuff happens. Competitors react in ways you never expected. Your customers don’t bite in the way you thought they would. The market research and customer insight you spent time doing was slightly wide of the mark. Your people on the group working with real customers cook up a solution the planners never imagined and it’s great. You find yourself forced to react to something happening in the world that you never saw coming – like Brexit, or Trump, or heaven knows what’s coming next.

The point is that everyone is involved in the real work of making a strategy work in practice.

The more people at all levels understand the strategy story and know what the priorities and trade-offs are, the more usefully they can feed back intelligence to inform the continual work of keeping the intention on track. The more strategy savvy your frontline is, the better the shared learning across the organisation, the more resilient you are.

To address this, “building your commercial edge” is vital.

Three things matter a lot:

  • You need to know why people buy from you. It’s amazing how many really big businesses haven’t got a clue.
  • We call this being clear on the “basis of competition” – do you compete on price? Do you compete on product difference? On your customer service?
  • For most of us it’s a combination of course – but you have to be forensic about the essence of what matters, because the wrong mix in the trade off will eat your margins.

Imagine you’re a gastropub: if you’re a top flight eating venue, you can’t skimp on your innovation and quality in food. But if you invest in everything else to that same level you’ll bust your budget. Equally, if you’re a pub that wants to offer your customers decent beer inexpensively, then if you spend too much on the kitchen and menu development, you’ll end up selling your beer at a loss!

You need to explore the trade-offs of these differences in order to come to a strategic decision about where you’re going to spend your time and money.

  • First, you need to consider what’s really important to you and examine where the fudge factors in your thinking might lurk. Asking commercial questions might be unwelcome or difficult, but they are vital to getting clear where to put your effort.
  • Second, you need to ask rigorously what actual processes and actions are needed to deliver the difference that your customer is willing to pay for – so you can see what matters and how you stack up on that relative to the competitor down the road.

There’s no silver bullet in this – just a better way of asking tough questions and doing the hard work of finding things out. But everyone who develops skill with these ways of thinking can do a better job of satisfying their actual target customer and holding onto more business at a better margin.

In an unpredictable and shifting world we all need our teams to be thinking about how to add value all the time. We need people to be alert to what matters and on the lookout for signs that the world is shifting in ways we need to address. The more we have teams equipped to a higher level of commercial edge, the better.