Listening to our customers is a key to organizational success but listening too well can be dangerous. I’ve learned to listen enough to tailor our strengths to address customer needs but not so well to become all things to all people. It is a thick, not a fine line to me.
It’s easier to come up with new things than it is new buyers – but focus breeds excellence.
Chick-Fil-A does not discount but gladly does free sampling of its products and it does not open on Sundays. And yet customer research says coupon clippers and Sunday mall shoppers would flock to their restaurants if they’d only change their policy. Some estimates are that Chick-Fil-A is saying “no, thanks” to an immediate 25-30% increase in their sales. (Hint: That’s billions.)
How many customers have begged IN-N-Out Burger and Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers to sell menu items other than their famous hamburgers and chicken fingers? Yet instant massive sales increases from selling salads and lots of other stuff have not moved these chains to comply with customer demand.
Our current favorite micro-lender (we proudly back several) recently told me they could not agree to my suggestion of taking on a development project that, in my opinion, would fit well into their sweet spot. The ED said to me, “we want to delight more sponsors and borrowers by lending brilliantly, not by doing more things”.
Each of these organizations seem to be “not listening” to customers and yet each are growing dramatically. Why?
I think it’s because they consistently delight those they serve through intense focus on what they do better than anyone else. And that alone will bring them more customers.
Our media company has a unique niche by delivering samples and coupons to people where they work. We are the only channel solely focused on reaching working consumers. And yet for the last eight years, we have drifted into selling small tests and campaigns to other audience clusters such as schools, churches and hotels.
Why? Because we lost faith in our own excellence. We felt like it was too hard to reach more customers about what we do uniquely and took the easier path of selling more to the same people.
If I’d have had this discussion with my Mom, she would have said “bloom where you’re planted”. Her meaning was that we must bear up under tough circumstances and not lose faith in what we’re good at. Even flowers can grow up through the cracks of the concrete that was poured over their soil.
In restaurants, losing your focus is called “menu creep”. In non-profits, it’s known as “mission creep”. And it’s everywhere. There are over 600,000 restaurants in the USA and more than half struggle to make a profit. There are over 1.5 million registered non-profit organizations in the USA and more than two-thirds of them struggle just to stay open and maintain their mission.
All of us have the choice of becoming great at something (blooming where we are planted), to be good at many things or to just get a paycheck.
Me? I struggle constantly with keeping my focus, but I strive to bloom where I’m planted.