You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s going to describe today’s economic marketplace as anything but temperamental. The natural inclination is to take a defensive hunker-down mentality, downsize, and play it safe. The truth is, however, you should be looking at things (especially your customers) quite differently.
Most businesses look at their customers from the inside-out based on what they want to deliver. (In other words, you’ve created your own Kool-Aid and you’re drinking it, so your customers should too, right?) But customers see any business from the opposite perspective, from the outside-in.
Let’s take these two views apart for a moment.
Inside-Out thinking begins by asking, “What are we good at? What are our capabilities and products? How can we use our resources more efficiently?” This thinking limits the company’s business opportunities because it means the company is less sensitive to how the customer is interfacing with the market. They’ve slipped into thinking it’s “all about us and what we sell.” Inside-Out companies are surprised by poor sales results. They don’t feel threatened when a new competitor enters the market. They’re out of touch with what value they really bring – or don’t bring – to their customers, or what their customers think of them compared to competitors. In short, their mindset is “Here are our products and services and this is how we help you.” The problem with this approach is that it relies on your customers having to work to find a place for your solutions in their lives.
Alternatively, companies that think Outside-In focus on the customers’ point-of-view. They stand in the customer’s shoes and view everything the company does through the customer’s eyes. They depend on marketing to increase the conversation they have with their customers which in turn allows them to seize on business-building opportunities. They ask their customers what their upcoming needs are and then figure out how to give it to them. By shifting the focus so significantly, they open up a much broader set of opportunities. These companies don’t wait around for change to happen but rather they create change by seeing their world through their customers’ eyes, allowing them to more quickly meet the customers’ needs.
A perfect demonstration of the difference is tablet computing. Tablets have been around for years, fundamentally as flat computers…in search of markets who need them. Apple, on the other hand, looked at how consumers use the Internet, music, photos and video content, and came up with a convenient form factor that is, in essence, an Internet devise, not a computer. The rest, as they say, is history. That’s Outside-In thinking at its best.
So what’s this all mean? Well, fundamentally, if you’re not stepping out of your comfort zone and taking a hard, honest look at your business and its products through your customers’ (and non-customers’) eyes, you’re putting a lid on your growth. If you’re not communicating to your customers on their terms, they simply won’t care. Having an Outside-In attitude ensures that your company delivers the value buyers actually understand and appreciate. Conversely, the old phrase “if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting the results you’ve been getting” has never been more true.