As many company execs become more and more distracted by how external factors like the economy, Wall Street, bailouts and… essentially a whole lot of uncertainty might affect their business in the coming weeks and months, I thought today might be as good a time as any to discuss internal factors that they (you) can actually control. It may not be entirely clear to everyone yet, but there are only two types of business problems: The ones you can actually fix, and the ones you can’t. Spending any time at all worrying about problems you can’t possibly impact is a complete waste of time and energy. Time and energy you could have spent on fixing problems that are actually within your control. So today, snap out of the doom and gloom of Wall Street, Detroit and the world at large and refocus your attention on what you can have a direct and immediate impact on. Like, for example, making sure that your community of customers continues to grow even in this economy. To help us with that, let me call upon our old friend Peter Drucker:
“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”
I would go a step further and say that the objective, not the purpose of a business is to create a customer. The purpose of a business is actually to earn a customer by somehow improving the life of that customer. Businesses can create products, markets, trends, technology, industries and lifestyles, but their aim is not to create customers. That type of model is too one-sided to be sustainable. (Once you have created a customer, you want them to a) keep coming back, and b) recruit other customers for you. Your purpose then is to create unique and compelling value for your customers.
In other words, don’t create customers. Create for customers. Cue Peter:
“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself. “
“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.”
That should be a T-shirt or a poster or something.
So put down the newspaper for a minute, mute your TV or your radio, and think. Think not about the economy and layoffs and bailouts. Think about YOUR business. Not your business vs. its competitors, not your business vs. the economy, and certainly not your business vs. the uncertain future. Think about your business in a vacuum. Think about its purpose. Think about the very specific value it provides to your customers. Today. What is it?
Being able to answer that question clearly and without hesitation lies at the heart of your ability to recruit new customers, retain existing ones, and survive even in a recession. Heck, not just survive but thrive.
Perhaps more importantly, discovering how your customers answer that question may be even more valuable. Is the value they find in doing business with you aligned with your vision? Do they find value in places you hadn’t really considered? Do they find very little value at all? Are you 100% aware of which of your products and services are doing great, which ones aren’t, and most importantly why? I am not asking you if you know which ones are the most profitable, mind you, but the most popular.
Believe it or not, focusing too much on the numbers, on your P&L, on the financials of your company can be as counterproductive as focusing on the news. I equate it to spending more time with your eyes on the RPM gauge of your dashboard or listening to your XM radio than focusing on the road ahead.
Focus on what matters: Customers. They are your lifeblood. They are at the center of every single business objective you will ever devise. The value that you bring to your customers is the only thing that will ultimately save you or sink you as a business. Growing your customer base, making your existing customers come back again and again and again, and creating the kind of value for them that will prompt them to – on their own – recommend you to their peers and friends is the one thing you should be focusing on now. Today. Tomorrow. And every day after that.
Read Peter’s words again. And again. And again, until they sink in.
This is the essence of all great enduring brands. This is the foundation upon which every successful business is built. Find your purpose. Find your place. Stand for something specific, that your customers want or need or crave, and be the best at it. Period.
Refocus that lens, grasshopper. Turn away from the distractions and the noise. Focus on what truly matters, on what you can have an impact on, and what will ultimately save you.
A quick illustration:
Two men on a life raft, floating in the ocean. The raft springs a leak and starts to take on water. Both men notice it and panic. One of them looks out at the vast ocean threatening to swallow them whole. Gigantic. Cold. Uncaring. Cruel, even. He holds on to the side and starts to pray. “Will we ever get rescued,” he wonders, “will we starve out here? Will we shrivel up and die? Will a wave come in the night and sweep us away? How can we survive out here without a raft… or even with the raft,” completely oblivious to the fact that the other man has already found the leak and is patching it up.
Which man are you?
Your world isn’t the ocean. Your world is the raft. Focus, and you’ll be all right.
If you still can’t get beyond the doom and gloom, if you still don’t know how to fix your leaking raft, you have two choices: a) Shoot me an S.O.S. (and I will either help you myself or hook you up with someone who can) or b) get inspired by reading about someone who succeeded against far more difficult odds than yours: Sir Ernest Shackleton (I suggest both a and b.)
And again: “Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.”
Have a great day, everyone.