Monday, November 26, 2012

Stakeholder Obsessed

What do you think of the word obsession? Right. But in certain contexts, it's actually a great thing. Forrester recently tweeted that two thirds of recently interviewed CEOs want to make their companies "customer obsessed."
But this growing worldwide strategy to close the gap between companies and their customers doesn't just apply to the tech companies Forrester advises. It's a global need for any organization that engages people. Getting closer to your customers is what CX is all about. Listen to your customers  and build their needs into your company culture so that when employees make decisions, they do so with a commitment to a long-term relationship. It means policies created on the back end of operations will consider impacts on customers as much as those that a sales force might create. Your company operates in partnership with its customers, and creates more loyalty in the long run.

We're gonna need a smaller tractor...
In frontier markets, this still applies. Think about the international development community. Organizations in this space deliver diverse services, from microfinance to maternal and child health. And it's all the rage now to say donors and development organization are customer, or in this case, stakeholder-focused. But being "stakeholder obsessed" goes further. It means programs carry on conversations with their stakeholders and integrate them into every aspect of their project design, management, and ultimate success.

The same applies to companies in frontier markets seeking to compete locally and globally. If two thirds of companies interviewed in Forrester's survey want to be customer obsessed, that means that competitors on the frontier are targeting customers in the same comprehensive way. The culture of a global company must be customer obsessed if it wants to provide services and products that will keep customers coming back.

The book Reverse Innovation details how global companies are looking to frontier markets for disruptive innovations they can apply globally. Frontier markets often require that companies design products under difficult constraints, often leading to successful products in more mature global markets as well.

Mahindra's lil' red tractor, ready for your back yard
In the book, authors Govindarajan and Trimble talk about how Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M) arrived in the US, and competed against John Deere by selling tractors developed for Indian farmers to a new group of customers. Their affordable and fuel-efficient little red tractor was perfect for hobby farmers, building contractors, and landscapers. To build their relationship with US customers, they focused on high touch service and created a conversation with their customers. This extended to post-purchase. The M&M president called 10-15% of new US buyers asking what they thought of the purchase process and their new tractor, using their feedback for future customers. Deere's agriculture head has since acknowledged that M&M could someday surpass Deere "in global unit sales".  This is the route to stakeholder obsession.

Being stakeholder obsessed is not a passive activity, obviously. Organizations need to position themselves closely to their stakeholders, establishing listening posts to obtain customer feedback, and then designing their processes, projects, and success criteria around the impact they have on those stakeholders. I'll highlight ways companies can do this in future posts, but everyone with a salary potentially could impact this. Do you see this where you work? How could it impact your organization? What companies or organizations do you think are stakeholder obsessed?

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