The Beatle's classic song Come Together has been released by other legendary bands such as: Joe Cocker, U2, Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses, Michael Jackson, and of course Marilyn Manson. The chorus is simple, yet powerful:
“Come together, right now, over me.”
I worked with a large manufacturer and services company who brought us in to design and launch a Customer Advisory Council (CAC). I asked the Executive Sponsor and EVP, why was it important to have his top customers come together. He rolled his eyes and proceeded to share an all too common story that starts with “My CEO met with the CEO of our biggest customer and here's what …”
The dream: This customer wanted them to build a solution that would change the industry. The customer convinced his boss (the CEO) to invest $100 Million in developing this solution, stating that the other 20 players in the industry had the same problem and would all but beg to have it.
The result: Two years after the release, no one including the original customer wanted this solution. The firm had rechanneled key resources down an innovation path that didn’t solve a problem or enable their customers to reach new levels. In the process, this company lost much credibility in the market, fell behind the competitors on developing solutions for real issues, and ended up writing off the $100 million investment.
How common is this: All too often I have found CEOs or key executives have not had a single conversation with a customer or key industry person. CEOs and Executives have used their power to unilaterally and without validation from anyone else re-direct key people, dollars, and strategy only to be completely off base, setting the company behind.
The reality: Most products and solutions need a market, not just one customer. It is critical to include more than one in the ideation, design, testing and launching of any key initiative. This goes for development as well as strategy, marketing programs, sales approaches, and pricing models. In fact, the only topic off limits is profit margin. Everything else should be filtered through a group decision makers…this is the key to sustainability and predictability.
Bottom line: Unless your offerings can be supported by a single customer, make sure to secure Collective market input and validation from the decision makers of your most important customers by having them come together, right now, over you!