February 2011 Archives

In senior executive circles, the idea that Customer Intimacy is a business model transformation initiative is often greeted with knowing smiles and nods, but little understanding of what's truly required. More often than not, the CEO expresses great interest in the  Customer Intimacy Engine™ but then wants to implement it along with 20 other initiatives, assign it to some low level committee, and hopes to be done in a year.

I can tell you from many years of experience, it won't work and you will waste whatever time and money you put into it.

Company after company will tell me that "customer intimacy" is one of the most important challenges for them to solve and that they're willing to spend significant funds on the issue but, in the same conversation belittle the effort and attention required to move the dial.

Transforming your business model in any significant way requires significant senior executive involvement and the dedication to make it the way you do business. Just look back at the historical change programs at GE under Jack Welch's tenure.  There was little doubt that he, Welch, was in charge of the transformation of GE.

Executive involvement and dedication means defining the success criteria and milestones appropriately, aligning organizational incentives, assigning and holding accountable a seasoned senior executive to lead the transformation and continually inspecting progress.  In other words, it should be a top priority topic on every executive leadership team meeting agenda until it becomes the way your company does business naturally.

The Customer Intimacy Journey™ is a much larger transformation than a Six-Sigma initiative; it literally impacts every function in the business across all boundaries. I've seen companies embark on the transformation effort, only to see their staff functions fight each decision and action along the way.  They cut off their noses to spite their faces, cheering that they were able to stop the journey

We know from 17 years of experience that it is very difficult to change a major enterprise - look how long the car companies have been trying to change - and we know it takes top executive involvement and commitment to make the Intimacy Engine™  journey a success.

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I understand that there is limited time for the leaders of a company to involve themselves in new things and it is difficult to know what's most important.  Furthermore, without knowing a company's situation in detail, I cannot speak to how important the move to the Intimacy Engine™ model might be for them, but if it is strategically important, then the level of complexity of the journey must be well understood so that the entire senior executive team can see that their personal and passionate involvement is crucial to success.

It's all about priorities - better to pick the most critical initiative and execute it well, than to try to do too many things - all of them half-heartedly. I understand the pressure is to deliver instant results. But, can these results be sustained?  And can you keep the momentum going? 

MORE INFO >> Download: Customer Intimacy as a Business Model by Dean McMann


The following guest post is by Mark Slotnik of McMann & Ransford.

As I stated in my last post, talent is always important and is one of the key drivers of the Customer Intimacy Engine™. Your people will constantly be generating new ideas for True Solutions™, taking those ideas to your customers and delivering on the promises made. And let's not forget that these teams are also accountable for developing account intimacy. Therefore, most companies going to the Intimacy model make developing talent one of their key initiatives because in an Intimacy based business, the skills required to sell ideas, deliver projects, and develop account intimacy are different from traditional product and service company skills.

When considering talent development programs, most people ask, "Can we just get the few online courses we need to add to our existing curriculum?" and/or "We already have extensive product and technical training - isn't that enough?"

That's like playing the game of horseshoes such that close enough is still good enough to score and potentially win. So yes, both of these are important and useful but they are components of a well crafted program.

The talent base requires a mix of skills to yield well-rounded personnel to drive success as they progress in the intimacy model and their career:

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In general, I find companies to have a very good handle on the Technical side of the equation. In addition, many people obtain their domain knowledge through their interactions with customers (i.e. the customer trains them). Where most if not all fall short is on the specific development of skills necessary for customer intimacy - those that are most closely associated with professional services skills, or "soft skills".

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Successful talent development programs also incorporate the principles of adult learning. If you are like me, you no longer absorb/learn like a sponge all of the new, complex teachings like we did in school by sitting and paying attention in class (and we all did that, right?). Adult learning requires more than webinars and training guides - a successful talent program includes coaching, mentoring, training and self improvement to fully enable your teams for success. People must be given the opportunity to:

•    Participate in an intellectual forum to ask questions, share examples and learn from others
•    Try their new skills in a safe environment
•    Implement the new skills supported by experienced coaches
•    Demonstrate successful adoption

As I stated in my previous blog entry, most companies going to the Intimacy model make developing talent one of the key initiatives. Why? Customer intimacy driven companies benefit by improving their customer's business outcomes and additionally, more than most other business models, value knowledge. Developing talent benefits your company by accelerating learning of skills and abilities within the organization. It benefits your teams by making their work experience a positive one, and by helping them to reach their full potential.

Remember, in a Customer Intimacy business, the individual's success is the company's success. The company that provides the framework to develop its employees is the one that succeeds in the marketplace. And while the company provides the framework to develop your employees, in the end it is a shared responsibility, as the individual must take the initiative to ensure his/her success.

How do you explain customer intimacy?

The clichéd use of the term customer intimacy has led to its devaluation across all industries - both consumer and B2B.

The phrase is misused in far too many ways to mention. Here are some examples of so-called “customer intimacy” initiatives:

  • reaching out to answer questions and complaints using Twitter and Facebook
  • building an online community to help customers buy more
  •  training to help the sales team become more consultative
  • online recommendations based on previous shopping patterns
  • a voice of the consumer program which asks for live feedback built into the product itself
  • a voice message that says “your call is important to us”
  • building customer experience scenarios with data gathered through observation

Each one of these initiatives has been tagged as a customer intimacy initiative, which isn’t an accurate reflection of what the phrase means at all. 

Customer intimacy, as originally defined by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema in Customer Intimacy and Other Value Disciplines was all about choosing a value discipline - operational excellence, customer intimacy, or product leadership—and aligning your entire operating model to serve that discipline.

This is where the misuse of the phrase with today’s jargon gets in the way.

Too often, customer intimacy is sold as customer relationship management, or Social CRM, or even product co-creation and crowdsourcing.

Many are initiatives which listen to the voice of the customer - usually in the form of negative comments or product complaints, and then finding ways to mitigate the negative response.

Other initiatives, such as creating campaigns on Facebook and Twitter or building an online community to encourage marketing conversations, may be called “engagement.” Engagement - our buzz-worthy term of the month - has become something of a movement in itself.  And I wouldn’t mind so much, if it wasn’t being used as a proxy for customer intimacy.

Still others are looking to improve customer experiences using surveys, feedback, and customer-driven feedback.

Even in B2B companies, which should know better, customer intimacy is often viewed as a sales initiative, as part of the global account management process.

Wrong.

Companies must view customer intimacy as a business model, not as a marketing or sales strategy, but as a transformative strategy for the entire business.

MORE INFO >> Download: Customer Intimacy as a Business Model by Dean McMann

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