Why is it always about me?

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It is all about me because …

In 2019 I identified that product companies miss their revenue targets because they focus on their product.  Not their customers.  That this basic error persisted astonished me.  Levitt made the argument for customer focus 60 years ago, and its advantages are obvious.  What is it about the human condition that persists in putting products before customers?

So, I set out to find out.  I listened to almost 100 people (alumni of London Business School and business professionals with an average of 25-years sales and product experience) explain why companies fail to get the most revenue and profit out of their customers.  I thought that the answer lay in product obsessed staff.  This is true in part, but there is more, with three reasons identified:

  1. People;
  2. Product; and,
  3. Profit

PEOPLE:  We are more complex than expected.  The opportunity to improve customer focus sits not only with the individual but also within our communities.  Three themes emerged:

  1. Me;
  2. Us; and,
  3. Them

Me: We are the opportunity.  Each one of us makes the Ego Error and projects how we see the world onto others.  In product companies, the Ego Error allows me to presume that everyone is obsessed with my product.  So, I confidently broadcast its merits, rarely pausing to check customer interest.  And when looked at like that, it is not surprising that revenue and profit targets are missed, is it?

Us: Me extends to Us.  I am surrounded by like-thinking company advocates.  If 20% of my company is sales, who spend 20% of their time with customers, 96% of company time is not with a customer.  It is no wonder that a product first culture continues.

Them: Map your customer relationships.  Many will cluster around procurement.  Some will be technical staff, but many will share a product obsession.  It takes effort to reach customers who know how your product can help them and real effort to listen to those customers that understand how it could improve profitability.

People are the source of product focus.  But it is surprising how much this individual tendency is reinforced by community expectations both within our company and our customers.

PRODUCT: Product development comes from what you have, not what your customer wants; big investment creates small flexibility.  And an existing product is a beast with direction, momentum and support demands.  It is simpler and less painful to delay customer focus ‘to another day’ when you persuade yourself you will ‘have more time’.

PROFIT: Organisations seek maximum profit.  Customer focus requires customisation which demands cost.  We seek to maximise profit by selling what we have, not what the customer needs.

In conclusion, the answer to “Why is it always about me” is because that is how we are built and what our communities expect.  But the final word goes to my interviewees.  From almost 100, one rejected the hypothesis citing Google.  Fair enough.  And another, a technology development director, did not have time to reply stating that they managed technology, not customers.  Everyone else agreed.  We will make more money if can focus on our customers.  The question then, is how?


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