How would you describe the soul of your company? Ask your peers to describe the soul of their company. I do this all the time. I get all kinds of answers like "our people" or "our culture" or "our capacity to innovate." Rarely do I get the right answer.
The soul of any company can be found in the unmet needs of the marketplace. Our businesses rise up with structures, processes, capacity, and know-how to service its soul. Think of it this way. Before our businesses existed, there were unmet needs in the market. People knowingly or unconsciously needed something that they did not have.
As you grow and expand, here are three ways you can keep customers and their unmet needs the soul of your company:
1. Keep "the main thing the main thing."
When you think of customer-centric companies, Amazon is likely at the top of the list and with good reason. Everything at Amazon is meant to be all about the customer. In a 2013 interview, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, shared just how important the customer is. He said, "I would define Amazon by our big ideas, [one of] which [is] customer centricity, putting the customer at the center of everything we do."
To ensure Amazon keeps the customer as the soul of the company and considers customer needs in all that they do, Bezos requires an empty seat at the conference room table for what he calls "the most important person in the room" -- the customer.
You might think it would be easy to keep the main thing the main thing in the earlier stage of any business. After all, the clock is ticking, the customers have all the money, and you need to determine a product-market fit before you run out of cash. Right?
With entrepreneurs who put everything into their dream, this idea generally holds true. But when venture capitalists come in and back these young ventures, more often than not, I've seen the team get enthralled with its own creativity and capabilities, and they become insular and self-referencing.
2. Manage critical allocations of time and attention.
As companies grow it is easy and common for the customer intimacy to wane. Business leaders get busy managing day-to-day operations, keeping staff on task, and making decisions that move the business forward.
All of these activities are critical to operating a business, but as a leader of a company, much of your focus should be working "on" the business. "On" work includes focusing on the customer, strategically growing the business, and not getting lost "in" the work.
It takes a lot of effort to get in a car or hop on a plane and go call on prospects and customers and really listen to them.
Amazon requires managers to spend two days every two years working at the customer service desk, even the CEO. How's that for keeping decision makers focused on the customer?
Amazon understands that when customers are neglected, a divide is created. This divide grows over time, and the company's purpose eventually becomes misaligned with the actual market need.
The leaders of peak performance companies relentlessly make it clear to all that the soul of the company is in the unmet needs of the market, and everyone must be able to articulate what those unmet needs are. They continuously validate these needs with the market.
3. Make the physical elements of your business customer-centric.
Every aspect of your business, from the way it is structured, to the way its offices are designed, to the way its website is designed, should make it clear to all that the company exists to serve the unmet needs of the market.
I see too many office environments designed to meet employee needs at the expense of customer needs. I see the bicycle racks and foosball tables but nowhere to hang my coat, or get some water. I look on the walls and see all kinds of accolades about being the best place to work but no customer testimonials.
When people visit your website, are they presented with information about you and your company, or are they presented with information that you truly understand them and relate deeply to their needs? Your website should be all about the needs of the market that your company exists to service.
Make sure every aspect of the business is designed to ensure the market knows that you really understand their needs and that you exist to service those needs.