12.04.04-1 THE CUSTOMER IS NOT YOUR FRIEND

The customer is not always right. The relationship between customer and vendor by definition is built on tension. Tension characterized by the customer who wants to minimize price. And the vendor who wants to maximize price. These are conflicting objectives. Customer-centric strategies that focus on delighting the customer ignore the economic realities of delivering this strategy. This does not mean that you do not listen to your customer or respond to customer needs. It means the customer voice is one of several voices that need to be reconciled. Any customer strategy first and foremost must begin with the objective of maximizing short-term profit. It is not possible to lead a sales force schooled in delight and collaboration into a market share battle demanding tension and confrontation.

I recently completed an engagement with Gramicci the outdoor clothing producer. Gramicci got it's start back in the mid-eighties by producing a pair of climbing pants that nobody had requested. The pants were ugly, available in one color and wildly inconsistent in sizing and quality.

But hardcore climbers loved the new pants because they addressed all the issues climbers had with shorts and pants available at the time. It wasn't until the climbers saw somebody else wearing the new Gramicci pants that they saw the utility and the real beauty in the design and started buying. Gramicci would go on to revolutionize the casual wear category with it's unorthodox style.

Rob Rodin former CEO of Marshall Industries the billion dollar distribution business and former client, wrote a book in the late nineties titled Free, Perfect and Now. The thesis of Rob's book being that if you ask a customer what they want they will tell you - I want it free, I want it perfect and I want it now. A mantra that Rob heard over and over from his customers when he asked them how he could better serve them.

Whats my point? Listening to the customer is but one of many voices that you need to listen to. Most real innovations in business come through the vision of an entrepreneur who sees an opportunity that nobody else can visualize.

Winning and maintaining a customer relationship is an intense competitive conflict between you, the customer, and the competition. Quite often the most difficult competitive conflict is the one between you and your customer.