Jeff Bezos was interviewed by BusinessWeek for their story on Innovation. I can’t be more of a fan of Jeff Bezos. I loved reading his story a few years ago, as having gone from a quirky hedge fund manager to being the founder of Amazon. He is truly one of the sharpest minds out there having lived through the dotcom bust riding a pure -to use outdated dotcom verbiage- “clicks and mortar” play.
BW asked a very poignant question and I quote “Q: Every company claims to be customer-focused. Why do you think so few are able to pull it off?”. Jeff’s answer just blew me away. He says “Companies get skills-focused, instead of customer-needs focused. When [companies] think about extending their business into some new area, the first question is “why should we do that—we don’t have any skills in that area.”
I thought about how it goes down at my place of work and how it probably is at your jobs as well. Or maybe at your own businesses. Almost everyone’s instinctive reaction to an innovative, out-of-the-box-idea is “But we can’t do that” or “It is not part of our model” or “You’re crazy!”. Recently, I had the honor of earning the indignation of my colleagues and a boss when I suggested tagging leads to a salesperson for life – i.e., if salesperson A uses salesperson B’s lead, then A should be given a (small) referral fee for the life of the deal that B put together with that lead. You should have seen the huffs and guffaws that went around the room and I was quickly pounced on by everyone. Needless to say, the internal confusion about compensation for sharing leads remains unresolved and is going to result in a lot of disastrous meetings and confusion with a last minute solution cobbled together and put in place. The idea was to move away from an ownership model, let salespersons relax about cross-sells and focus on increasing their business.
Jeff is not suggesting that if you run a painting company to start selling flowers. No way. The point of focus in his words are “A much more stable strategy is to start with “what do my customers need?”. He says Amazon’s Kindle is a great example. He doesn’t say what prompted him to develop this new gadget but one can imagine that it might have stemmed from delivery delays that buyers might have experienced on Amazon. If you were savvy enough to buy all your books from Amazon, then you probably want to get to the book faster. And so Kindle was born.
This was the most insightful questions for me from the interview… it clearly validated my way of thinking, thank God! One of the ideas I picked up from the jokers at SearchMyCampus.com is to offer a service if there is a critical mass of folks asking for it. By that I mean, if you’re in the painting business and a certain number of your clients (say 2 out of 10) ask for spackling services then that is something you might want to review. 1 out of 10 might be a random request but 2 out of 10 signals the start of a pattern. 3 out of 10 and you should start hiring the right folks and buying the equipment and by 4 out of 10, you should be ready to do your first spackle job.
This is great for me personally as well because I clearly recognize that I do not possess all types of skills. I am good in some and suck at others. But instead of being skill based (can you make presentations? Can you train your team? Can you manage people? etc.) Jeff now makes it easy for the million of us by suggesting retaining focus on needs. If you are not able to manage people, then you can find someone. Ditto for all other skills. Seems like the winner is the person who keeps his/her ears open to client needs and orchestrates the execution to provide solutions to them. Simple? 🙂