Market Centricity Is Outside-In

By Mae Scott-Schaefer Do you care about your customers? I mean, do you, like, really, really care about them? I’m sure you say that you do. Every company claims to be customer centric, but how many really are? Most do not listen to their customers, let alone to the larger market. If you’re not listening to your market, and if you’re not engaging them on their terms, you’re setting yourself up for failure. I’ve been in several meetings in which Steve Jobs has been quoted as saying, “Customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.” These same folks are also fond of invoking Henry Ford, and the famous, “If I’d asked them what they wanted, they’d have told me they wanted a faster horse.” Now, it’s true, going out to your market and asking them what they want is not an efficient means of gathering intelligence, nor is it an effective strategy upon which to base your product development. Your market doesn’t typically communicate unmet needs and then ask for new products. Your market communicates problems and pain, and pines for relief. Your job is to identify and to understand those problems and pain, and to figure out a way you can help. If you can do that, you will achieve relevance. Not listening to your market implies that you do not value what they have to say or what they express. Not listening makes you irrelevant to your market. Irrelevance is the death knell. If you wish to be truly market-centric, you need to reframe your thinking from inside-out to outside-in. Inside-out thinking focuses on your internal tools, processes and products, with little regard for the market. Outside-in thinking reframes your thinking so that you look at your tools, processes and products from the perspective of the market, and you make decisions based upon market needs. Inside-out thinking:
  • Leads to cost-cutting measures that may negatively impact the market and your brand
  • Focuses on shareholder value, rather than on creating value for the customer
  • Might improve internal processes, but often to the detriment of the customer
  • Is all about you, and not about your customers and market
Outside-in thinking:
  • Maximizes benefits for the customer
  • Encourages creative problem solving to develop and exploit nascent opportunities
  • Leads to solving problems
In short, inside-out is about you. Outside-in is about your market. Your market doesn’t really care about you. Your market cares about the problem they have. Think about a company like GE. GE is one of the largest companies in the world. It has billions of dollars in assets under management. It has a market capitalization of almost $300 billion. Jack Welch used to be its CEO. It was founded by Thomas Edison. Does any of that factor into your buying decision when you need a lightbulb? Your problem is that you were reading, and the bulb in your lamp went out. You looked in the closet and you didn’t have a spare, and now you find yourself at Home Depot shopping for a replacement. You don’t care about GE. You care about having light. So, why do we so often go out to the market and tell them about our products, our services, the breadth of our coverage, or worse, our processes? Because we have not bothered to listen to our market. We have been too busy focusing on our own inside-out thinking to devote any time to the market. If you truly want to be market-centric, you need to flip your thinking and become outside-in. Identify market problems. Solve market problems. That will build credibility more than talking about your strengths, features, or competitive advantage. Mae Scott-Schaefer helps companies position their products and services in ways that resonate with the needs of their markets. She has worked in the publishing, consulting and software industries, and holds both a B.A. and an M.A. in English. Contact May at mae.schaefer@gmail.com.

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