Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Shocking Thought: Maybe Customer Centricity Isn't for Everyone

I’ve been at the National Center for Database Marketing conference these past few days. As usual, I’ve spent most of my time in the exhibit hall gossiping with friends…I mean, doing research. This doesn’t leave much time for attending the sessions. But from what I see on the conference schedule, the buzzword of the moment is “customer-centric”.

Given what we do at Client X Client, I thought this was good news. So I was quite surprised to hear several attendees questioning the concept—as in “we’re not sure customer centricity is for us.”

This reminds me of the boy who goes to a girl’s home to pick her up for a date. The girl’s father pulls him aside and says, “Young man, I want to know whether your intentions are honorable.” The boy looks puzzled for a moment, and then his face lights up. “You mean I have a choice?”

It had not occurred to me that anyone had, or wanted, a choice about whether to be customer-centric. The people asking the question were experienced database marketers, so it’s not that they don’t know any better. All raised the same issue: they work in product-oriented companies, and it simply wasn’t clear they could or should restrict sales of one product to promote another product or to limit total customer contacts, even if this might increase total value per customer.

This is not a new issue, and it’s easy for me as a consultant to simply say, "Yes you should." But these people are not in a position to make the issue go away by reorganizing their company around customers. Realistically, many successful companies will remain product oriented for the foreseeable future.

I can suggest optimization methods that would illustrate the financial benefit of placing limits on customer contact. They can even maintain minimum sales levels per product. But that is a technical solution to a political problem. I doubt it will succeed very often.

What’s more needed is a transition strategy that allows companies to get some of the benefits of customer centricity without abandoning a product orientation. I have no immediate idea what this strategy would look like but will give it some thought. Any suggestions are welcome.

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