It’s the Customer, Stupid

Think it is tough being in the auto industry?

Think it is tough being in the auto industry? Just imagine dealing with soft drinks and makeup. Face it: not only are there plenty of competitors in the arenas for those consumer products, but no one really needs them in the same way they need wheels to get to work. Those arenas are ruthless. Jack Stahl worked at Coca-Cola for 22 years, five of which he was the president of its North America group. He spent some five years as CEO of Revlon. Think he doesn’t know a thing or two about how to lead organizations that are dealing with hardball competitors and fickle customers?

In Lessons On Leadership: The 7 Fundamental Management Skills for Leaders At All Levels (Kaplan; $22), Stahl repeatedly promotes a customer-centric approach. For example, he counsels, “Always think about your product as a potential solution for the consumer. Furthermore, always understand that this focus is entirely different from being centered on the internal attributes of your product, such as its technical makeup or how it is manufactured. Those factors may be foremost in your mind about your product, but they are important to consumers only if they are translated into a solution that they value, and are willing to pay to have.” Too often, it seems, businesses are focused on what they think internally (e.g., “This is a fantastic product that is obviously, well, fantastic, damnit!”) and spend less time thinking about what’s important to the customer. That’s a key difference between a Coke and the countless other drinks that wish they were Coke, and between a Toyota and....—GSV