The New Rules of Customer-Focused Growth Strategies

How many of us have been feeling a bit…sluggish lately? 

Perhaps you are experiencing similar pressures that my clients have: tight credit. Poor cash flow. Exhausted employees.  Higher benefits costs. Clients that demand more from you for less.

These are not only pressures that your clients are feeling.  They are affecting you as well.

And the rules for creating sustainable growth are very different than they were in the past.


I was talking with a large E&O insurer last week. They were aghast at how their top competitor responded to a client request.  One of their competitors’ clients threatened to displace them with a cheaper alternative—and when they did, their competitor offered them a similar insurance policy for FREE for 2 years.

Is this sustainable client retention strategy?  I think not.

This will erode your profits and your brand faster than a speeding bullet.

While clients expect more from your brand, they are similarly overwhelmed by the sheer number of products and services available to them.  This is reflected in a recent survey by the Edelman Trust Barometer. They learned that 62% of adults in 20 countries trusted corporations less in 2008 than a year earlier. 

At this pace, we simply cannot afford to win our client’s hearts and minds by offering great concierge level service at Wal-Mart prices!

There is an antidote for this behavior. And it begins by truly understanding what your clients are experiencing.

While your competitors cut their prices to sustain growth, albeit temporarily, you have the opportunity to protect your brand, regain your client’s trust, and retain your margins.  I met Jim Champy today during the Center for Services Leadership Symposium kickoff in Phoenix, Arizona.  Here are his nine traits for how smart, client-focused companies behave.

1.    Ambition matters.  Never underestimate the value of the burning desires of your leadership team and employees. I know I sound like a broken record because I talk often about Tony Hsieh at Zappos. But his sincere ambition to spread happiness is obvious. (see my previous postings showcasing my interviews with him).

2.    Intuition reigns.  The top companies hang out with clients. No shortcuts here.

3.    Focus prevails.  Zipcar’s CEO doesn’t see his company in the automobile rental business.  They are in the shared ownership business.  This gives them an entirely new frame of reference than Enterprise, Hertz, Alamo, or Avis.

4.    Customers rule.  Unless you are proud of running a top-down, bureaucratic company, you must engage your customers in every aspect of your planning and marketing activity.

5.    Calm enables.  People will reward you handsomely for grace under pressure. Just look at Colin Powell. Cool, calm and collective.

6.    Innovation lives.  What activities are you hosting to open creative channels and reward better ways of doing business? In these tough  times, most of us are focusing too much time on firefighting, not expansive thinking.

7.    Culture drives decisions. I recall a client who struggled to consistently describe their values and culture. One of their general managers was tasked with building a new car wash on their resort property. Since the GM was confused between delivering high quality and acting like a business owner, he chose to spend $300,000 on the project.  This poor decision became urban legend.

8.    Everyone plays.  You are no longer in charge of your brand or your marketing plan. Your entire community contributes to it. Just ask United Airlines after the “United Breaks Guitars” video reached all corner of the universe.

9.    Authenticity is essential.  Your clients and employees define who you are, and what you stand for, in every community. Protecting your client feedback as confidential information will be trumped by vehicles such as Yelp. 

Everyone is talking about customer-focused growth. Are you engaged in the conversation?


Copyright 2010, Lisa Nirell.  All rights reserved.





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