Home > Leadership, Managerial Skills, Organizational Culture > Too big for your customer?

Too big for your customer?

I have teamed up with a friend to develop the Consulting & Training practice launched 5 years back. In the week just ended we visited a dozen accounts to make presentations on the solutions offered by us – we offered solutions from my portfolio and from his range of IT solutions.

Looking back at the work done over the last 5 days, and the response received from various organisations, it dawned on us that we could have done this much earlier. For many months we had subcontracted this work to the junior members of our team and they were delivering results that were way below our expectations.

Our businesses were suffering from a major disease – neglect by the leader. We decided that it is time to make amends – let me add here that we were pushed to this decision by the fast depleting order-book and the inability of our team to prime the prospect pipeline at the desired rate.

There comes a time in a professional’s life when he believes that meeting customers is a job meant for front-liners. These hotshots believe that the role of the Big Boss is to sit in a quiet and comfortable room far from the market and from thence send out commands to the front; he also believes that only such isolation permits development of ideas and strategies. They just need MIS and the reports generated by the foot soldiers; not for them the hassle of travelling to remote locations or the “inconvenience” of calling on a client.

And then, slowly at first and rapidly later on, they lose touch with reality. They live on past knowledge. The junior team-members recognise this soon enough and fill the leader’s eager ears with information of the kind he wishes to hear – and that would be far removed from ground realities. But for the hotshot who has isolated himself from the market it sounds like gospel truth. Your team could be burning valuable resources, such as time and money, by chasing the wrong prospects and by offering deeper discounts that is warranted. They could probably be compromising your business by giving commitments they are not empowered to and wouldn’t be working as hard as they are expected to; but their reports wouldn’t say anything. And the real feedback from customers probably isn’t reaching you either.

Only when a huge crisis lands like a steaming hot potato into his by-now tender palms would the Boss wake up and smell the coffee.

Do we need to reach such a state?

My friend and I realized soon enough that even to direct our team there is need to see what’s happening out there. By permitting second-hand news to fill our ears we run the risk of sending the team the wrong way – and in extreme scenario run our business to the ground.

As the leader you can strategise and make informed decisions only when you know the market first hand and when you know what the customer is thinking / talking about you and your rivals. You will also be able to direct your team and get them to achieve desired results by being in the know of things.

Get up and go out into the market, Hotshot! Remember, you are never too big to visit a customer!

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  1. November 4, 2012 at 8:00 am

    very much trun and inspiring us to go and get on with the ground reality than repenting on with our past expereinces for Low productivity by the team

    • JayadevM
      November 4, 2012 at 8:22 am

      Hi Ganeshan

      Welcome!
      Thank you for corroborating!

  2. Lini
    November 4, 2012 at 8:36 am

    This is a very valid point I too have learnt from experience sometime back. As your business progresses and the number of clients increase your front line will have to take on the role of client sourcing as well as servicing as you will not find adequate time for this.

    The real challenge that is going to come is in maintaining your clients happy and most often the junior team ends up goofing up some task or the other. So as your client base increases make it clear to your team what your expectations are for client service, what is not acceptable, empower them to sort client issues and make them accountable for their actions. Make them responsible not only for the revenue but also for the cost of your operations. If your support team is not dedicated the full burden of sustaining your business will be on you alone.

    • JayadevM
      November 7, 2012 at 3:09 am

      Hi Lini

      Well said! Yes, the junior members of the team to be made aware of the impact of their actions and told to keep cost down too.

      But it still does not absolve the leader off his/her Client Facing activities – s/he needs to be at the front too. The amount of time spent and the type of client met can be worked on, but the leader has to go out there.

      This is a must-do for small and medium sized organisations – when they get really big and have a team of sharp and profession managers the next in command can largely take up that responsibility.

      Thank you for sharing those insights.

  3. Raaj
    November 4, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Hello Jayan

    Yes, this story is oft repeated the world over…. many times to the same people in some sort of sick cycle, every few years or so.

    Good one… great reminder!

    Keep up the good work.

    Thanks

    • JayadevM
      November 5, 2012 at 6:59 pm

      Thank you, Raaj.

  4. November 4, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    good one.!

    • JayadevM
      November 5, 2012 at 6:58 pm

      Thank you, Jithin.

  5. George C John
    November 5, 2012 at 3:56 am

    In addition the familiarity with the customer leaves an open channel for client communication regarding any matters relating to the lack of quality of service / product . if this response is negative and conveyed through the front line , it is unlikely to reach the leader’s ears .

    • JayadevM
      November 5, 2012 at 6:58 pm

      Yes, leaders will do well to leave the channel of communication open – and hear direct from the customer; second-hand news can send you off on a tangent.

  6. Ramesh
    November 5, 2012 at 5:25 am

    Though written and read many times…Leaders fail to practice this aspect. The longer you delay the farther you are from reality, and the gap increases between reality and belief…

    Thanks for the reminder!!!

    • JayadevM
      November 5, 2012 at 6:54 pm

      That’s right … Leaders should remember that it is easy to preach, so difficult to put in practice. So they better do first and believe they will be followed.

      Thank you for the visit and for the interesting thought.

  7. Santhosh S Valsalam
    November 5, 2012 at 8:16 am

    @Jayadev, Very True. It happens to everyone in varying extents

    • JayadevM
      November 5, 2012 at 6:05 pm

      Thank you, Santhosh.

  8. November 5, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    This explains many and many more things which go un-noticed by many,like – nonsense, good for nothing advertisements, goofed up new product developments, redundant product/service features which customers care a damn when launched, recurring service calls and cascading & bigger service costs, a zillion MIS formats required-by-deadline within a simple organization, the hoax of Voice-of-Customer initiatives, so called funda of 360 degree feedback, good for nothing “Outreach Customer” weeks, fortnights & months, you name it, examples would galore.

    All could be avoided if and only if the Commanding Super Manager does something to Earn Respect and Money thru simpler steps than the Grandest Strategies. . .

    • JayadevM
      November 5, 2012 at 6:10 pm

      Whoa!

      My friend, that is a huge chip you have been carrying around. Drop it before you get hurt.

      But, a lot of what you have said it right – so much is being done in organisations just to fulfill processes and to please bosses. And what should be done is forgotten or set aside for want of time.

      But who will bell the cat?

  9. Clifford.
    November 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Good leaders are the ones who dig in and get their hands dirty while running their business’. They measure what they manage and manage what they measure.
    Worth a read and very well written. Thanks JM.

    • JayadevM
      November 5, 2012 at 6:04 pm

      Hey Clifford,

      Thank you for the visit.

      You know what, a young reader (my student) said the same thing. He gave a quote:

      “The future belongs top a few of us who are willing to dirty our hands!”

  10. November 6, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    very very true…Sitting in the comforts of the AC cabin one can easily become a victim of flattery….The subordinates would keep saying ‘Boss, we rock out there’ when reality might be that we are at the receiving end of rocks flowing down in a landslide! And believe me, there are men whose sole purpose in life is to keep repeating what the boss says like a recorder just to win a place in his books

    • JayadevM
      November 6, 2012 at 2:12 pm

      Ha! Ha! Ha!

      Jayashree, I can confirm that having seen some “His Master’s Voice” types during my career – happens when the Managers are unprofessional and dole out favours / support based on own likes and dislikes.

      It is so easy to get blindsided by flattery and false info when you are out of touch with reality.

  11. Biju Krishnan
    November 7, 2012 at 1:41 am

    Yes the leader needs to know the ground realities. But quite often he/ she must have come from the battle ground itself, so for them it is only a question of updating themself with new realities if any with some dip stick or random checks on the field. The leader who reach those glass cabins right from college with a high flying degree may need to do this more often. When the organisation is small this is a must but as it grows in size it may not be very practical. Only the biggest and the most important customers gets included in the contact plan calander of the Top shot. We need to recruit the right candidates, give them the required resources and support. Then trust those Lieutenants.

    • JayadevM
      November 7, 2012 at 3:13 am

      Hi Biju

      Nicely put … I just finished saying that to another reader. That in small and medium-sized organisations the leader needs to be out there more often and in the really big ones the responsibility can be taken up by the next in command and the Head can address larger audiences or meet some key customers.

      But those B-schools types definitely need to be put in the market first – before they retreat into a glass cabin, Most big companies put them in such a role as a part of their induction program.

      Thank you for that useful input.

  12. Jamy
    November 9, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    As a leader you have to have a hands-on-approach towards steering your team in the right direction; lead by example, make sure you can step in and carry out any task or responsibility that is delegated to subordinates. Perform or perish!!

    • JayadevM
      November 11, 2012 at 9:10 pm

      No better way, Jamy, than to lead from the front.

  13. vinod mathummal
    November 28, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    Leadership is always by example….armchair selling will never carry you far!!

    • JayadevM
      November 28, 2012 at 6:03 pm

      Hi Vinod

      I know that you are a hands-on Manager – hence your comment carries weight.

      Thank you for sharing that message.

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