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Getting CEOs Onboard With Your Customers
Change-management guru William Brendler highlights how CEOs think about the impact of their customer-centric competitors.
Posted Nov 28, 2000
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Are you a CEO? If so, you are most likely dealing with competitive challenges that have increased exponentially You probably have lost sleep over this formidable challenge. It is easy to feel overwhelmed. Dizzied by the frantic pace of change and confused by overwhelming choices, some of you are reacting with too little too late. And some of you are sitting back and watching as your companies slowly lose their competitive position.

Could this be you? Does it have to be you? No.

You need to open your eyes to the new imperatives of a customer-centric organization. All senior executives are wrestling with the same intractable dilemmas: How do you compete in a networked world of mass customization, shrinking margins and global competition? Yesterday change came gradually--today it comes as a flood. How can you ensure that your organization offers substantial value to your customers today? You're going to have to take some risks and learn how to invent a new future.

The biggest question we all have is how do we engage you in leading a customer-centric strategy? Some of your colleagues have responded by learning more about their most dangerous competitors. They've become directly involved in analyzing the answers to these questions. Which customer needs does your competitor serve better than your company does? What advantages does the competitor have that would be difficult for your company to replicate? Where is your competitor vulnerable to your company's attack?

By understanding the answers to these questions, CEOs can begin to understand how their competitors think. That's your job!

We have found that the best way to unlock the thought processes of CEOs--and their senior executives--when it comes to customers is to hold an offsite retreat. We start by getting the executives to plot the company's strategy against the competition. One team plots the company's strategy against the leading customer-centric competitors. The other team plots the competitors' strategies against the company.

As the CEO observes the presentations of the two teams and the results of their strategies, it becomes increasingly clear that many of the company's assumptions about its competitive position are less solid than they had assumed. This process often creates breakthroughs in thinking and change.

Here are some insights that have unlocked other CEOs' thinking about the impact of their customer-centric competitors:

  • Customers perceive the competitor's customer-centric value proposition to be so compelling that they will become the market leader


  • The company's structure puts the company at a competitive disadvantage because customers were having difficulty getting their needs met (i.e. it's too cumbersome)


  • The company's compensation system makes it very unlikely that it will retain and attract good people


  • Unless the company takes radical action, it will not be possible for the company to maintain its competitive position.


    Would this get you're attention? It's easy to get comfortable, to confuse your title with your competitive value. Survival, though, isn't a given for any CEO; success must be won every day. If you were applying for your job, would you get it? If you had to bill for your hours, would anybody pay you? When the answer to these questions is maybe or no, it's easy to blame things you can't control. You are responsible for your competitiveness and your customers. You have to open your eyes to everything and everyone, acknowledge the forces of change, admit all you don't know and start to invite learning.

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