Customer Planning – Copy, Paste, Plus 5% won’t cut it.

Five tips which will….

Planning Time – ‘Copy, paste, plus 5%’

You know the drill, it’s customer planning time; crept up on you again like Christmas. Didn’t we finish the last one recently? Some helpful person has sent around the latest incomprehensible super spreadsheet template that you’re supposed to understand and complete. Of course, it bears no resemblance to your situation but hey, let’s open the plan from last year….copy, paste and, what’s the plus number that I know we won’t achieve but will save a whole lot of time…5% should do it. They’ll probably get the helpful spreadsheet guy to put a ‘management overlay’ on it anyway when the collective number doesn’t hit expectations.

It’s not an inspiring picture but it is very common in my own experience and the groups I work with. The net results? Morale sucking, cross-functional in-fighting, time wasted and, crucially, a lack of creativity. Same old customer plan……let’s hope they don’t see through it this time.

Why do organisations waste their talent & creativity?

Think about the last business conference you attended or magazine you read. I’m pretty sure there would be something like “the war for talent”, “innovation, the key to success” or some other buzzwords flying about. Imagine the interview with the new HR Director talking about how important it is to get the best talent for competitive edge…….

Difficult to disagree with any of it but one thing strikes me; so many organisations seem to spend most of their time sapping the creativeness of their people, placing very little value on taking time to think differently and actually using the talent they have. The obsession with being seen to be ‘doing something’, anything, trumps thinking time….busy beats effective. Copy, paste, plus 5%.

Everything was an idea sometime…..

Look around you, pretty much wherever you are, everything you see was once an idea in someone’s mind. At some point, there was a creative spark, a new way of looking at a situation, a conversation that created a link……and then some magic happened. A new way of doing something, a product or service idea, a reach back to the past with a twist of modern relevance, a different approach……creativity and value creation. The true genius of an Einstein or Hawking, their imagination. Their ability to ‘think like a child’ and wonder what if….

What if….

It’s this type of thinking that was behind the economist Joseph Schumpeter’s principle of ‘Creative Destruction’; the razor blade of new thinking that slices through the present and creates the difference & better, rapidly. And here’s the bad news for the incumbents. Take a look at the current top 20 largest companies by market capitalisation. Compare it to the list 10, 20, 50 years ago. Not many of those, seemingly, powerful and untouchable organisations exist anymore…copy, paste, plus 5% doesn’t cut it.

The Curse of ‘New’ vs Simply Better

Talking about an Einstein or Hawking can be unhelpful…..it automatically starts people downgrading their own abilities, doubting their own capacity. How can I possibly create the big ideas to change things with my customers?

Small ideas can be big game-changers. In the book ‘Simply Better’, Patrick Barwise & Sean Meehan, explain how the drive for the new can destroy the search for ‘better’. Simply delivering on the core essence of the product, but doing it better than the rest. The impact can be powerful; they use the example of Colgate toothpaste. To simplify, you need most people to think your product is slightly better than the rest and worth paying for, which equals a large market share.

You don’t necessarily need a better ‘what’ (the thing you do), instead what about a better ‘how’ (how you deliver it). What gets you remembered? One of my brothers is a plumber, a good one. Every time he drills he also uses a vacuum cleaner to simultaneously suck up the dust. Working in his customer’s homes, he cleans up. Everyday. His customers are delighted with their new bathrooms and kitchens but what do they mostly talk about? How clean it was when they came home every night. His ‘what’ is great but his ‘how’ gets him new business.

You may not be a plumber, but the point is simple, what are the small ways you can change your business that make a big difference to your customers? Copy, paste, plus 5% won’t.

We always do it like this…..

How many people are there in your business? Your supplier base? Your customers? How many qualifications and years of experience do they have? How often do you utilise all that to create better thinking? What climate is created to encourage creativity? How often are people peeled away from their screens to actually engage with their fellow human beings? How often does it simply come down to good old-fashioned ‘command & control’ putting all the pressure upwards and frustrations downwards? We always do it this way…..

Imagination and creativity leads to innovation

The human species is unique in many ways. Our success is founded upon socialisation and co-operation (give or take the odd conflict). We have a unique capacity for imagination – a business, the law, our government – these are all things that human beings have imagined and created.

Working with our clients, so many times we get feedback along the lines of “it was really valuable to take a step back and think about our clients”, “it’s so refreshing to allow some thinking time”. Just one idea can make the difference with your customers…and transform copy, paste, plus 5%.

Five ways to make a difference….

There’s plenty of material out there to use and here are 5 things you can do to make a difference:-

  1. GIVE IT TIME – Set aside time to think and plan, it’s not going to happen otherwise. If you’ve got 10-15 customers to plan for that’s circa one per month. Prioritise them and get it in the diary. It’s not revolutionary but could be if you actually do it.
  2. GET THE ENVIRONMENT RIGHT – where do you do your best thinking? Probably not in your open-plan office in front of your screen. An office is a dangerous place from which to survey the world. Get out. Get some space. Use visual materials to stimulate thinking. Work standing, not sitting – it’s better for your brain.
  3. FRESH EYES – human beings are brilliant for sparking ideas. Get some colleagues who DON’T know your customer. They can challenge your thinking, give you some fresh perspectives. Ask one of them to facilitate the session so that you can focus on your customer.
  4. THINK CUSTOMER; IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THEIR BUSINESS – too much customer planning time is spent thinking about our own business, not our customers’. Forget your stuff for a while; what’s going on in their world? What’s going on for your customer’s customer? What are their biggest issues & challenges? How can you help & solve their problems?
  5. GET PLENTY OF EXTERNAL STIMULUS – there are plenty of business tools, most are either badly used or not used at all. Here are a few tools to help – again, maybe not new to you but with a twist that makes a difference.
In your customer’s shoes

So many times I hear “but our culture doesn’t allow this…”. Who makes the culture? Organisations can be slow to change, people can be fast – it’s your call whether you want to do it better.

If you enjoyed this article & think it may help others, please share it.  If you have any comments or feedback please feel free, or email me at gareth@expressionforgrowth.com

One thought on “Customer Planning – Copy, Paste, Plus 5% won’t cut it.

  • Ramesh

    Very nice article and very apt too. I truly believe that creativity and innovation are very unique qualities and are key differentiators.

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