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Defining Business Purpose and Mission: The Customer

Who is the customer?

“Who is the customer?” is the first and the crucial question in defining business purpose and business mission. It is not an easy, let alone an obvious question. How it is being answered determines, in large measure, how the business defines itself. The consumer – that is, the ultimate user of a product or a service – is always a customer.

Most business has at least two customers. Both have to buy if there is to be a sale. The manufactures of branded consumer goods always have two customers at the very least: the housewife and the grocer. It does not do much good to have the housewife eager to buy if the grocer does not stock the brand. Conversely, it does not do much good to have the grocer display merchandise advantageously and give it shelf space if the housewife does not buy. To satisfy only one of these customers without satisfying the other means that there is no performance.

ACTION POINT: Take one product or service that you are responsible for and determine how many kinds of customers you have for it. Then figure out if you are satisfying all of your different kinds of customers, or if you are ignoring some category (ies) of customers.

Understanding What the Customer Buys

What does the customer consider value?

The final question needed in order to come to grips with business purpose and business mission is: “What is value to the customer?” it may be the most important question. Yet it is the on least often asked. One reason is that managers are quite sure that they know the answer. Value is what they, in their business, define as quality. But this is almost always the wrong definition. The customer never buys a product. By definition the customer buys the satisfaction of a want. He buys value.

For the teenage girl, for instance, value in a shoe is high fashion. It has to be “in.” Price is a secondary consideration and durability is not value at all. For the same girl as a young mother, a few years later, high fashion be comes a restraint. She will not buy something that is quite unfashionable. But what she looks for is durability, price, comfort and fit, and so on. The same shoe that represents the best buy for the teenager is a very poor value for her slightly older sister. What a company’s different customers consider value is so complicated that it can be answered only by the customers themselves. Management should not even try to guess at the answers – it should always go to the customers in a systematic quest for them.

ACTION POINT: What do your customers consider most valuable about the product or service you provide? If you don’t know, find out. If you do know, ask your customers if you are delivering.

If you can shift your thinking away from merely selling and into building trust instead, even if it costs you a few bucks in profit, you’ll begin to see opportunities you never imagined once you understand what it means to ‘wow’ that customer by giving them more than they expected!

Chris Zane

In a truly great company profits and cash flow become like blood and water to a healthy body: They are absolutely essential for life but they are not the very point of life

Jim Collins

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently

Benjamin Franklin


Goodness is the only investment that never fails

Henry David Thoreau

Creating a strong business and building a better world are not conflicting goals – they are both essential ingredients for long-term success

William Clay Ford

In the next decade, the most successful companies will be those that integrate sustainability into their core businesses

Jim Owens

To build and sustain brands people love and trust, one must focus—not only on today but also on tomorrow. It’s not easy…but balancing the short and long term is key to delivering sustainable, profitable growth—growth that is good for our shareholders but also good for our consumers, our employees, our business partners, the communities where we live and work, and the planet we inhabit

Irene B. Rosenfeld

Corporate Social Responsibility is a hard-edged business decision. Not because it is a nice thing to do or because people are forcing us to do it because it is good for our business

Niall Fitzerald

We know that the profitable growth of our company depends on the economic, environmental, and social sustainability of our communities across the world. And we know it is in our best interests to contribute to the sustainability of those communities

Travis Engen

Where sustainability works best is where an organization’s leadership gets it and wants it to happen and enables it to happen – so everyone from the person who sweeps the floor to the finance director feels part of that conversation

Will Day

The business of business should not be about money. It should be about responsibility. It should be about public good, not private greed

Anita Roddick

Ethics is the new competitive environment

Peter Robinson

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