One of the lessons I learned years ago, during my first time as the chief executive, was that our business lived on the street, with the customers…more so than inside the walls of our facilities.
All around me, inside the business, leaders and their teams made essential contributions to our success, delivering on promises made by our marketing, sales, and customer service folks. Their actions relied primarily on established expectations and known variables around product and process. They also challenged the status quo to make us better, improving our quality, efficiency, and profitability, while
generating abundant data that accelerated our decision-making and ensured that we got paid.
The business could not have succeeded without their commitment, initiative, and rigorous work. But despite reliably meeting the multitude of challenges confronting them, and consistently improving our operations, their efforts were not the hard part of growing the business.
The hard part was getting the next customer order. And because the markets we all serve are
unpredictable and dynamic, our customers, their customers, and every other business faces the same challenge. We all must adapt to our customers’ changing needs to get that next order, to survive, and to grow. We have no business without the next order.
Getting the next order is the hard part because discovering what a customer values, and why they value it, can evolve over time. Earning a customer’s trust on a recurring basis means navigating unclear expectations, unknown variables, and rapidly changing circumstances to provide solutions that create value for the customer under their current market conditions and needs.
It’s the hard part because the agility required to meet a customer’s changing needs and get the next order often disrupts the predictability, efficiency and reliability that our internal operating associates rely upon to fulfill promises to customers. A customer’s urgency and unpredictability challenges them to adapt once again while sustaining their high performance. But because they’re aware that creating value for the customer creates value for the business, they deliver on that promise once again.
It’s the hard part because getting the next order depends on how consistently we fulfill promises, and how well we sustain enduring customer relationships, accepting that a customer’s trust must be earned every day on the street. It’s about remaining engaged to ensure that promises are kept, and then reminding customers how doing this created value for them so they are ever aware of our commitment to their progress.
Doing the hard part is what keeps a business alive and growing.
How could your business do the hard part better?