One of my clients is part of a family that owns multiple businesses. He recently took over the General Manager role of a company in their portfolio that was underperforming.
We agreed on a plan to optimize his first 90 days in the new role (I’ll explore this topic in depth in a future article).
One of his priorities is to conduct a series of structured interviews with staff, customers, suppliers, and partners to identify key issues and/or opportunities for improvement.
Regardless of whether you are new to the role, I recommend that senior company leaders (C-Suite) are assigned a Metric(KPI) to personally speak with a certain number of end-user customers each quarter. Face-to-face is best, otherwise a phone call. Not a written survey!
A common target might be 12 customer conversations per quarter (1 per week) per leader.
The aim is for business leaders to get a personal understanding of the customer’s world, without the information being filtered through your sales staff, customer service staff, distributors, etc.
I learned a concept called 4Q Conversations from Verne Harnish a couple of decades ago. Here is how I’ve modified the concept for my clients:
Rather than being simply 4 questions, I prefer to think of 4Q as the 4 pieces of information a leadership team wants to gather and analyze from customer conversations each quarter to inform your company strategy.
Each leader asks clients the same 4 questions and captures the responses in your CRM.
- (US) How did we perform for you? (for one-off large transactions) or
How are we performing for you? (for recurring purchasers)
Tell me more, etc…
- (THEM) How are things in your business?
- (INDUSTRY) What’s going on in your industry?
- (COMPETITORS) What do you hear about our competitors?
Obviously, you resolve any customer problems that require immediate attention, but the aim is to look for recurring themes (key issues and/or opportunities) in each of the 4Q Conversation topic areas and incorporate these lessons into your Quarterly Strategic Review process.
Holding your senior leadership team accountable to meet their 4Q Conversations metric target each quarter is a business execution discipline to ensure leaders stay in touch with the reality of the marketplace and that your strategy remains relevant.
In addition to your 4Q Conversations discipline, I recommend the CEO personally visits your top 10 customers every year and for this to be one of the CEO’s personal metrics. Get out from behind your desk, get on a plane, and make it happen.
What are you waiting for?
Until next time…
Stephen Lynch is the author of the award-winning book; “Business Execution for RESULTS: A practical guide for leaders of small to mid-sized firms” winner in the “Management” category of the 2014 Small Business Book Awards in the USA.
He’s also written articles on strategy and management for The Economist magazine.
Need a Strategic Plan Facilitator for your next planning session? A Business Coach to help you scale your business? Management Training to upskill your team? Contact Stephen to discuss your needs.