The Say-Do Gap

Life is filled with examples of the Say-Do gap. And, work life is no different.

Take the case of wanting to improve on existing standards. Most organizations – and senior executives – would ‘say’ that they would like to see an improvement in the status quo. Some would even argue that significant improvement is the only way to beat the competition – after all, change is the only constant. However, most avenues of feedback and improvement are often ignored by well-meaning folks.

No, I am not talking about Customer Satisfaction surveys or NPS numbers here. There is only so much that a ‘formal’ system of feedback from a select set of customers can tell us about how, where and when we need to improve our products and processes.

Let me take a few examples that may seem strange to entertain at first…

  1. Subtraction

    Take any business conference you’ve attended in the past few years. Most will hand you a docket at the registration desk that is filled with sponsored content, marketing collateral and white papers on topics of industry relevance. Each item is carefully crafted by Sales and Marketing folks who do this for a living. Yet, at the end of the conference, the tables will be littered with leaflets and brochures that were left behind by the attendees – material that was not relevant enough for them to carry all day, or take back with them.

    Imagine how insightful this information really is – your target audience telling you by the end of the day what doesn’t really work for them! But almost every conference organizer (or client) ignores it.

  2. Addition

    Take the case of the auto accessories industry. We buy cars, and then we buy accessories that fill the gaps that the new vehicle didn’t already address. Nowhere is it more apparent than in India which is famous for its jugaad approach.

    The accessories industry fills these voids on many different levels, from basic elements like floor lamination (hygiene in monsoon-affected markets) and leather-like seat covers to luxury elements like parking cameras and Android Auto enabled touchscreen infotainment systems. In each of these examples, either the equivalent does not exist with the original dealer, or is only offered as a bundle when you buy the next variant, or is available at a price point that is unacceptable to the customer.

    Each element is an example of what the customer really wants – and is willing to pay for it, if the price is right. But, almost every auto manufacturer (or dealer) ignores it.

What is ironic is that, in both these examples, the enterprise in question spends a considerable amount of resources in collecting ‘Customer Feedback’ through formal systems that hardly ever yield such insights.

As I said before, Life is filled with examples of the Say-Do gap. If you really want to do something about improvement, there is plenty of opportunity all around us… All we need is to open our eyes and minds.

Balance is the Key

Matt Watkinson seems to have stirred up a hornet’s nest on LinkedIn recently when he posted…

“No business should be customer-centric.”

He did attempt to clarify his position with a more detailed explanation, but it seemed to have struck a raw nerve in many that probably spent a good part of their lives in the pursuit of Customer Centricity.

Here’s what Matt meant (in his own words)…

The term implies that the customer is at the center — the focal point of decision-making — and by virtue of that fact, other things are orbital or of lesser importance. 

Imagine an F1 team saying they are engine-centric, tyre-centric, driver-centric, or aerodynamics-centric. They’d never win because the real challenge is combining these elements into a single package. Great engine and bad tyres? Back of the grid for you.

I couldn’t agree more.

Sure, there are many who would argue that Matt’s post is clickbaity or that he is being semantic. After all, every organisation prioritises different aspects at different points in time. But, I’ve also seen many organisations just pay lip-service to being customer-centric (or -focused, or -obsessed) without really tackling the problem at the grassroots level. So, maybe, we do need to examine the semantics a bit more closely.

By and large, if you were building products or services in isolation (of customer needs), it would do you a whole lot of good if you focused on your customer, and not on the highest paid person’s opinions (inside your organisation!).

That said, CX (or Customer Centricity) is a tool at your disposal – to be used appropriately, and in relevant situations. It can address specific problems, but is not a cure-all.

There are many, many moving parts to running (and scaling up) a successful enterprise. Employees, Products, Revenues, Costs, Profits – all need to work in harmony to make music. I would submit that a good business leader’s role is to conduct the orchestra in such a way that the result is a great business (not cacophony).

As with most things in Life, balance is the key.

Looking Beyond The Numbers

This post first appeared on the Relatas blog…

If you are in Sales, you probably identify with numbers more than most folks do. If you are any good at what you do, you would most likely know your monthly, quarterly and annual Sales targets. And have a plan in place for achieving those targets. You would know which of your customers are likely to contribute what amount of revenue towards your Sales goals. And, you would know what all this means, in terms of your year-end incentives and bonus payouts.

In fact, those who are not in Sales-based roles, and have faced the receiving end of a subjective appraisal by their managers, have probably envied the objective assessments that Sales folks experience at some point or the other: Do this much, get that much. It all sounds so simple and elegant!

Aiming for and achieving these daily, monthly, annual numbers is probably what keeps you sane. It is no wonder that most Sales people I know take great pride in their target achievements, and have a big part of their identity (dare I say, ‘self worth’?) tied up in the numbers they achieve.

But, is there a Life beyond these numbers?

I’d like to submit three areas for you to reflect on…

  1. Embrace Technology – Enough and more has been written on the plethora of AI- and Technology-based tools that the modern-day Sales agent has at his/her disposal. But most people I know are struggling to keep up, and resist change every chance they get. Keep in touch with new developments out there. Learn how they work to your advantage – don’t resist them. In fact, influence your employer/manager to adopt relevant tools, whenever possible. Technology is now table stakes, but can also provide the edge.
  2. Build a Personal Brand – Create a well-rounded LinkedIn profile that reflects your best attributes and accomplishments. Go through others’ profiles to seek inspiration, if needed. Include a professional photo and a concise summary of your work. Take the time to read relevant industry posts and articles (even if you’re not the ‘book reading’ type), then start sharing selectively. Once you get the hang of it, you can also include observations and commentary on your posts. Only after you have a profile and a news stream worth looking it, reach out to relevant connections and build your network – current clients as well as prospects.
  3. Broaden your Horizons – Don’t spend all your time confined to your product and industry. Find avenues of information that complement traditional sources, and soak it in as much as you can. Attend industry events and conferences (not to merely “sell”, but to learn more). Listen-in on panel discussions that are not directly related to your product. Expand to industry conferences that are peripheral to your industry. Use networking breaks to share your thoughts and discuss relevant problems with others in the industry. Diversity of knowledge broadens perspectives.

Remember that this is just the beginning of the journey, not the destination. While this post has been written for the Sales professional, these attributes are essential to any working professional in this day and age. Master these, and you will surely take your existing skillset to the next level.

May the force be with you.