When we decide to become an entrepreneur, we are driven to come up with a differentiated solution. We see an opportunity in the marketplace where a gap currently exists, or we decide we have a better solution. We open our business, sell our first widget, sell some more and we are off to the races. When we hit 100,000 in sales, we have proven that our product/service can sell to multiple customers.
When we hit 1 million in sales, we have proven the market really wants/needs our widgets. When we go over 10 million, we have officially transitioned from being “under the radar,” and our widgets become a much higher priority target of our competitors’ salesforces and the new startups in the market – we become the company to beat!
- They are the ones who buy our widgets.
- They are the people who make our widgets.
- Leadership Team. They are the people who are building the teams and processes to grow our company to make more widgets.
Once we have developed a widget that sells, and we have created a company with employees and a leadership team to help us grow the business, we tend to become internally focused.
We focus on questions such as:
- How do we get better at making widgets?
- How do we keep our employees motivated to stay with the company, so we can continue to grow?
- How do we incentivize our leaders so we can grow even faster?
- How do we organize ourselves better, so we not only sell well, but have operational excellence?
So, what is our potential blind spot? If we focus internally too much, we can forget what got us here: developing a differentiated solution, filling the gap or creating new solutions. We can potentially lose sight of who our # 1 priority is, the customer. We focus on people and processes at the expense of the customer.
I am a founding partner in three growth companies that are now 30, 20 and 8 years old. We have never lacked for people and process challenges over those combined 58 years and will always be dealing with more in the future.
There will always be internal problems to fix – always. The more you grow, the more your infrastructure will be challenged to keep up, the more your processes will stop working efficiently, and the more your organizational structure will change. This will happen, and you will have to deal with it. But not at the expense of the customer.
I now work as a writer, coach and growth advisor to leaders, spread throughout the world. I must share a story about one of my clients. They are a leading product company in their field, have over 20 million in annual sales, and have the reputation as being highly innovative with their customers.
So, when I asked them how many times they talk to their customers, how many times they survey them, what do they learn from them; the answer I got was not what I was expecting. They didn’t do any of the above. They had gone internal, completely. Thankfully, they listened and adjusted, and they have now gone external too, with great results.
My advice, do not lose sight of the customer. In my book, The Second Decision, I cite the top reasons for failure or underperformance in businesses and I will highlight one of them: The math just does not work – there is not enough demand for your product or service at a price that will produce a profit. Focus on your customers, stay relevant, lead your industry…and stay external too, always.