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Get out of your office!

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In 2008, I left Best Buy. I had been there for six years, and before that had been with a small business. So I just assumed that every company was obsessed with their customers!

Yes, I was naïve. I still am.

From there, I joined a new company. And I learned there were other approaches to running a business.

This was a division of a Fortune 100 company that was growing at an incredible rate. We had the highest market share, and we were growing at 25%. So the organization felt like they had everything going right. They were so confident that their new strategy was to become a $1 billion business.

Those who have read Good to Great probably know where this is going.

When I joined the company, I was amazed to discover that nobody in marketing or product development had ever met a client!  Their sales came because the parent company sold the products. The parent company had the relationships – so our product teams were comfortable sitting in their offices making up strategy PowerPoints.

In fact, when I asked to go visit clients, my request was met with a blank stare. “Why do you need to do that? You’re a product manager. Go work on your product!”

As I learned more about the company, some overlooked items came to light that nobody wanted to talk about. Yes, we led in market share. But we also led the market in the percentage of customers who were closing their accounts.  When you combine the largest market share with the highest percentage, you get a LOT of leakage. But we were growing so fast that nobody cared.

So I used that as my leverage. I decided to run a “leakage study,” which I called “Hug Our Customers.”

[Note: Be very careful with campaigns with a name like this. One of our sales people arranged a visit with a client and shared the name of the program. Needless to say, we quickly renamed it to “Collecting Best Practices.”]

Rather than going alone, I brought our account management, marketing and product management teams with us. We interviewed clients to learn what separated those with high leakage versus low leakage. The results humbled us.

Those with high leakage (in other words, with lots of people closing accounts) were those who were most likely to use our marketing materials!  That hurt.

Those who were the best customers were far more likely to create their own materials. Our materials used facts and figures – theirs told stories.

Luckily, our marketing leader was astute enough to react quickly. Once she saw the theme, she immediately switched our messaging to reflect our clients’ needs.  The result?  Our growth accelerated, and our leakage problems reversed. They didn’t disappear – but they greatly improved.

The key lesson here is the need to get out there and see your customers. Yes, I know your executive team is busy. You have meeting to attend and TPS reports to create. But you can’t create customer centricity from your desk.

In our interview with Great Clips CEO Rhoda Olsen, she referenced how she visits hundreds of salons a year to stay close to her customers. And she says that this is why Great Clips has experienced 40+ quarters of consecutive same-salon growth – a phenomenal achievement.

A.G. Laffley, the former CEO of P&G, said, “It is always eye opening to spend time with consumers. I personally make time to visit with shoppers and consumers at least once a month, and I never fail to learn something I can apply to the business.” And you have to be impressed with what he did with P&G.

So find a way to get out of your office. And bring your executives with you.

You might be shocked with what you find.

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