Do You Care More about Your PRODUCTS than Your CUSTOMERS?

Do You Care More about Your Products than Your Customers?

Business consultant Cindy Barnes tells how businesses could benefit from shifting focus away from themselves and looking outwards to their customers’ needs.

I regularly find myself telling clients a simple but very important truth: that they care much, much more about their products than they care about their customers.

And it’s always interesting how clients respond when I spell this out, because it so often comes as a big surprise to them. They haven’t realised that all the care and attention they lavish on products isn’t actually for the good of their customers. It’s just what they do best and enjoy doing. In other words, they’re product-centric, not customer-centric.

How to Tell if You’re Product-Centric

By ‘product’, of course, I also mean a service or offering. For instance, we’ve recently been working with a large service company who are technical experts in their field. Their business grew out of the very specialist tasks they perform for their customers. These tasks are often a matter of life and death, and so the company’s expertise is very highly regarded. We’ve been helping them work out how they’ll grow and develop.

One of the big things we identified is that they approach the market in terms of product groupings – which is, indeed, how the whole company are organised. Because of this, their natural tendency is to sell their customers siloed offerings based on each product grouping.

This approach genuinely hinders their ability to see beyond product offerings towards a more customer-centric view – one that provides the customer with a mix-and-match of connected products and services and presents what the customer actually wants in an appealing way.

This company, even though they weren’t aware of it, are deeply product-centric. A great deal of effort is focused on developing product features, performance and quality to make continual improvements.

This company are not alone. Typically, product-centric companies invest in innovation and research and development; if they’re mainly services companies, like our client, they invest in people development, training, coaching and so on. Everything is dedicated to ensuring that people are working at peak performance and at the cutting edge of where they think they need to be.

The problem is that product-centric companies rarely involve their customers in product design. Instead, they trust that their designers and engineers know best how to design or improve their products. They are also not inclined to look at what their competitors are doing.

The crippling disadvantage of being product-centric is that it makes companies inwardly focused. They suffer a type of ‘product myopia’. Customer needs are seldom explored or taken into account. Philip Kotler, in his book Marketing Management (Prentice Hall, 1994), puts it well: “These organisations too often are looking into a mirror when they should be looking out of the window.”

The Importance of Customer Engagement

This ‘disease’ of product-centricity is not limited to big organisations. Last week, I spent a few hours with a very successful small business in the education sector. This company are grappling with how to position themselves in their markets, and the difficulty stems from the fact that they are another product-centric company. One reason they struggle to present themselves externally is that they’re so inwardly focused they have very little practice engaging with the outside world.

And so it typically goes with product-centric companies. They don’t know how to talk to their customers, nor have they developed the ability to empathise with them, to understand what motivates and constrains them. They can’t see things from the customers’ point of view, because they’re focused only on what they have to sell.

Product-centric companies tend to think that they’re focusing on the customer, but actually, all they’re concerned about is themselves.

Don’t Be a Car Salesman

A final symptom of product-centricity that I’ll mention is that these companies also tend to sell in a very transactional way. This is a very ‘one-at-a-time’, old-fashioned ‘car salesman’ kind of approach. The drawback is that this approach doesn’t build a relationship with the customer. There’s no scope to deepen understanding of the other person, nor to gain a perspective on how they see things.

Product-centric companies don’t understand that they need such perspective. They think that their products are the be-all and end-all of everything. In time, these companies lose market share because their competitors – who they’re often oblivious to – are bringing customers into the equation. These competitors can then deliver authentic value to customers, and in due course will start to conspicuously outperform their peers.

A Long-Term Investment

The difficulties that accumulate from being product-centric can’t be addressed with a quick fix – as companies get bigger, they must tackle the underlying issues and internal structures. This involves some strategic thinking, which, in my experience, few want to do.

Rather than placing more focus and training on the technicalities of the product or service, companies need to switch focus to invest in effective skills training in things like empathy and developing relationships, the skills that are essential in customer-centric organisations. For many businesses, acquiring these soft skills is very hard. I understand the desire for a quick fix, but fundamentally difficult and sometimes painful work does pay dividends!

Are YOU Product-Centric?

Do any of these issues ring true in your own experiences? If so, you may want take a quick test. Ask yourself:

  • Do we focus more on product or service features than on customer needs?
  • Do we involve our customers in product or service design and how we run our business?
  • Do we spend time and resources researching our customers and their needs?
  • Are we paying close attention to what others in our market are doing?
  • Do we often struggle to create marketing messages and clearly position ourselves?

Your answers might suggest that your organisation is too product-centric. If so, don’t despair! You can start shifting your business to be more customer-centric by focusing on these three things:

  1. Generating real customer insights through research – Learn as much as possible about your customers before deciding how best to serve them.
  2. Understanding the different needs and characteristics of customers and managing them accordingly – Create customer segments based on value, needs and behaviour, then develop customised marketing, sales and service plans that are relevant and valuable to these groups.
  3. Managing the customer relationship through the most appropriate channels – Find the channels that customers prefer and create customer experiences that are consistent across those channels, whether online, face to face or via a retail outlet or call centre.

Do you have a favourite system for keeping your company customer-centric? If so, please share it in the comments section below.

Cindy Barnes
10 June 2014


Cindy-Barnes-TwitterCINDY BARNES (MBA) is a business and psychology consultant with a background in engineering, product and service innovation, marketing, business development and leadership. She is qualified as a counsellor in Transactional Analysis and is the co-author of the bestselling book, Creating and Delivering Your Value Proposition. As an engineer, Cindy has created, developed and sold many leading edge products and services. She ran large-scale, unionised automotive component factories for Smiths Industries, and led research and development for Panavision, developing a leading-edge product which is still their most profitable to date. Later, she led marketing and business development for Capgemini and co-created a new business unit that had sales of 83m and a pipeline of 309m in 12 months from a zero start. In 2003 she founded the consultancy ‘Futurecurve’, which helps companies navigate from a product ‘push’ focus to a true, sustainable customer ‘pull’ focus, enabling them to out-perform their peers by delivering genuine value to customers. Customers include global corporations, governmental organisations and not-for-profits. She is passionate about nature and sustainability and supports local environmental groups and social enterprises. She is also a graduate of the 7 Graces Foundations of Ethical Marketing Course and active member of the 7 Graces Community.

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Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of Marketing LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors.

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