Customer Intimacy - Key to Market Leadership

Leadership in the market place is not won overnight. It does not happen just because the product is the best. There is a lot more beyond the product that makes some Organizations leaders. Apart from the right product, right quality and the right pricing, it is those value systems and strategies that these Organizations pursue relentlessly that makes them the leaders.

One of the things that you will find common amongst the various leader organizations across industries is their customer orientation. No doubt companies invest a lot of money and effort in Customer service. But this is not all. The industry experts have coined a new phrase known as ‘Customer Intimacy’ which is essentially different from Customer Satisfaction.

Customer satisfaction has become an accepted standard that all of the Companies aim to achieve as a normal part of its sales strategy. When we talk of Customer Intimacy, we are referring to something else altogether.

Customer Intimacy refers to the art of getting to know the Customer’s business and problems better and being able to provide solutions that alleviate the customer’s problems rather than just sell one’s product or service to the customer. Organizations build up expertise in customer’s business segment and are able to be two steps ahead of the Customer when it comes to identifying the root cause of the problem faced by the Customer and coming up with dedicated solutions.

Studying IBM’s philosophy and their business strategy in the early 1970 to 1990 makes for one of the best examples of Organizations building and sustaining leadership through Customer Intimacy. During the 1970s and 80s, no technology manager would even dream of venturing to look at the players other than IBM. Manager’s found it easier to convince the management for higher budgets to be spent on technology with the help of IBM solutions. If technology managers and managements went with IBM and took it for granted that they got the best solution, it was not because of the IBM products alone. No doubt IBM had the best products and the depth of the product range too was great. But what clicked deals was the fact that IBM sales teams went into great depth to study and understand the Customer requirements, analyze the customer’s problems and suggest total solution. IBM built product and industry expertise within its product team and aimed to provide unmatched value to the customer in the form of expert guidance, advice, as well as unmatched service support. IBM invested time and effort of several team members and engaged with the customer in designing the systems for the customer, in planning for new applications to solve customer problems, to handhold and train the staff as well as to engage with the Customer’s management in convincing them of and advising regarding the right technical approach that the Organization needs to take for enabling their business. There were several competitors who poached IBM sales staff and tried to replicate IBM story in the market but failed miserable. The reasons for the failure of such competitors was due to their inability to understand the approach that was required to build Customer Intimacy.

Organizations that practice ‘Customer Intimacy’ have a totally different approach to the sales and sales effort. Organizaiton’s like IBM build an Organisation that is tuned to the needs of the Customer and not just the sales staff. IBM sales staff is empowered to call upon various product leaders and experts to work on the prospective customer and demand the best attention from the Organization for their customer. When the sales staff leave no stone unturned to design a total solution for the Customer as in the case of IBM, the Customers have no further need to engage with several service providers or experts to guide them through and take the pains to put the puzzle together. Moreover, by crafting and engineering the total solution on behalf of the Customer, the Organization takes the responsibility to make the solution work and to implement the same to the Customer’s satisfaction. This is a major responsibility and risk that is taken on by the Organization and the Customer is relieved of the major risk of having to make things work.

Those Organizations who keep solving Customer’s business and problems as the goal and build a participatory approach to working with the Customer in helping the Customer do better in his business, in helping him build his expertise and grow his business will always find themselves leading the pack from the front. They differ from the rest not by pricing or product but by their approach and superior value addition that they provide to the Customers.


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