Customer Intimacy Incubation: Organizational Issues

As we mentioned earlier there will be natural forces within the company that will work against its success – normal, but they can be destructive, as we see in many public cases of organizational transformation attempts.

Internecine warfare is a common reaction when you set about changing your business model. It’s not simply a go-to-market adjustment.  When building a customer intimacy business model, their are several unique attributes that cannot, and must not, be compromised:

I think at this point it might be helpful to discuss some of the issues of forming the group that is to incubate your Intimacy Engine™ business model.  I say incubate because like many new initiatives it must be kept apart – nurtured and protected from the normal processes, procedures and pressures of the organization.

As we mentioned earlier there will be natural forces within the company that will work against its success – normal, but they can be destructive, as we see in many public cases of organizational transformation attempts.

Internecine warfare is a common reaction when you set about changing your business model. It’s not simply a go-to-market adjustment.  When building a customer intimacy business model, their are several unique attributes that cannot, and must not, be compromised:

Similar to Consulting Firms – Like consulting firms the key people will be spending time advising clients and working with them in an intimate way – think trusted advisor. This means investing much more authority in field functions and less reliance on staff functions and a much flatter organization – more people doing, less people checking to see what they are doing.

Similar to the Army – The decisions are made on the battle field.  The general cannot be called every time a corporal must make a decision.  Further, like some consulting firms these businesses must deal with a large influx of people who must become experts rapidly in their career. This requires a level of constant training and development unknown in today’s corporations.

Pull Through Product – Unlike consulting, the purpose of the intimacy is to differentiate the company and allow trusted advisors and True Solutions™ to pull through product.  Therefore the measures of success are different than consulting.

Rapid Growth – To make a difference to a large enterprise in a reasonable amount of time the business must grow very rapidly.  This means hiring many people – early in the growth curve and that is difficult for companies today who look to hiring people as one of the greatest risk they have.  Further, the business processes and procedures (which are often different existing processes) must be implemented at the start – these counterintuitive processes and procedures may go against the grain. 

It is important that the new group report appropriately in the organization so that that it receives frequent attention from senior management.  Many organizations believe this can be accomplished outside of the organization chart – and in some cases that is true.  

Ask yourself, in your company, how important is the organization chart? Is it the first thing discussed? Does it drive how we view who and what’s important? If so, then organization placement of this initiative becomes critical to success.

Often the leader emerges from the effort to get the organization aligned on the vision and motivated to take action.  The very passion required to get the organization moving is also needed to keep the effort going.

The attributes of your leader are important:

  1. They must be respected by the organization
  2. They must be aggressive – this effort will require immense energy
  3. They must be flexible – like any new venture this effort will require many adjustments
  4. They should not be bureaucratic or rules-bound – the nature of new and the nature of solutions-led businesses is that they are flat organizations with much authority given to people lower in the organization.
  5. They must be determined – this effort requires 3 to 5 years to be completely successful, and the leader must be able to stay focused for the duration.

The initial portfolio during the “form” phase of the transformation to an intimacy business model (which we call the Intimacy Engine™) is crucial.  The dilemma is the need to develop True Solutions™ – which must address an important business opportunity or correct a business problem for your client – and have the ability to implement these solutions consistently.  

The structure of this new group will resemble a type of management consulting firm.  There will be practices for each grouping of offers (discussed a little later), a group that helps create offers, manages methodologies and trains the staff, and the junior consultants organized into a pool of resources.

You’ll notice that I neglected to denote all the staff functions normal to a product business – HR, Finance, etc.  It is not that these are not important, it’s just I want to speak to them separately. Let’s take each one of the denoted groups and explain their purpose:

Practices – this group holds the expertise of the offer – usually vertical in nature.  If the practice is to serve hospitals this group will have the experts that know how to sell and deliver to hospitals.  It is important to note that you may or may not have a sales organization for this business – there are reasons for both. But the ability to convince clients to buy the offer will live in the practice.

Methods – the ability to do the same thing many times is the mission of the methods group. These might include the following activities: hire, train, and on-board someone, or develop offers, or conduct steering committee meetings, etc.  These groups are made up of rotating people from the practices and the pool.  They must be able to do the work to understand how to build and maintain the methods that enable success. 

Pools – the pool is where consultants stay as they learn the trade and develop what are called “major” and “minors” –  their specialization – vertical and/or type of work.

No one should believe that the transition to a customer intimacy business model is straightforward.  There are many stumbling blocks along the way. In our experience at McMann and Ransford, we find that only the most determined companies can make the journey without stumbling.

Customer Intimacy: Getting Buy-In & Making the Case for Change

The Customer Intimacy journey requires focus for an extended period of time, and even when companies take the long view, living through the natural disappointments of this size of business model transformation can discourage the best organizations. 

Thus, the importance of gaining a shared view of the business cannot be overstated.

There is no consistent way for organizations to absorb and adopt truth. But, I think understanding what they need – depending on type of organization and driver of decisions – helps in gaining a shared view.

The Customer Intimacy journey requires focus for an extended period of time, and even when companies take the long view, living through the natural disappointments of this size of business model transformation can discourage the best organizations. 

Thus, the importance of gaining a shared view of the business cannot be overstated.

Depending upon company culture, this may require buy-in from a few key executives, or, in today’s climate, a much larger group. Further, the buy-in process requires persuasion at three levels: emotional, intellectual, and tangible (evidence-based results).

There is no consistent way for organizations to absorb and adopt truth. But, I think understanding what they need – depending on type of organization and driver of decisions – helps in gaining a shared view.  The following information is organized as discrete options but in reality you will probably combine several different approaches – firms don’t fit neatly into the above matrix.

Also, the use of the word emotional in the diagram above refers to firms that have the ability to undertake action through an intuitive, inspirational, or gut-level understanding – they know the truth when they see it.  Surprisingly, many of the biggest and most successful decisions by the best run companies have been made this way.

Now, let’s discuss a few ways to assist an organization in the analysis of the case for change (obtaining of the truth). By no means are these the only mechanisms available to an organization but hopefully they can help in organizing our thoughts about how to get a shared view within the business.

Again, beginning the Customer Intimacy journey with support from the organization is crucial; in my experience I find very few firms actually take the time to understand the decisions required and make them with the appropriate support. Indeed, this is one of the primary reasons why business model transformation initiatives fail.

  1. Hierarchical firms that make emotional decisions.  As stated, this process is about getting those who are trusted by the organization to make those leaps of faith to want to move to the Intimacy Engine™.  We have seen firms take executives on a retreats where the current reality is examined from a scenario point of view – what would happen if we can’t change things with the usual methods, how would are business be different if we are viewed as an extension of our clients.  The use of a well organized retreat allows for the time to consider things differently than normal; above all, the retreat must be well planned and implemented.
  2. Hierarchical firms that are quantitatively driven. This is about understanding the benefits of moving to the model and risk of the journey.  This might be accomplished with an iterative process of resenting the story and related data in a more and more detailed fashion over a few meetings:
    1. What is the issue we are trying to address and how does this business model address it?
    2. What are the benefits – increased revenue, decreased costs, longer more valuable client relations?
    3. What are the risks – chance of failure, cost of failure, and ways to mitigate?
    4. What are the approaches for implementing and a proposed plan, decision gates?
  3. Hierarchical firms that need outcomes to commit.  These firms must see the output of a pilot of the model to fully get on board.  Pilots need much more discussion than can be provided here – but the choosing of the market/product/team for the pilot and the way it is monitored is obviously crucial.
  4. Communal firms that make emotional decisions.  These firms have strong cultures and require an approach that leverages the inclusive nature of the business.  This will require many events and outlets for different groups and levels of the firm to participate in examining and reacting to the idea and ramifications of the move to the Intimacy Engine™. Then representatives from each group (vertical or horizontal) would conduct a firm report out – usually requiring several cascading events.
  5. Communal firms that are that are quantitatively driven.  This is a tough situation where many people must be convinced of the financial and risk assessment viability of an idea.  I have seen an approach to this where a case study of the business is created and then this is disseminated – adjusted, improved, and edited – in a company-wide co-creation process.
  6. Communal firms that need outcomes to commit.  This process must take into account both the need for a successful pilot but also the need for a broad range of people within the firm to participate.  This can be accomplished by broadly exposing the organization to the pilot throughout its life.  The interaction must be factual even blunt and open to all criticism.

A note of warning. One other approach we have seen used is the under the radar program. Although this requires much less upfront effort, it often fails because the people involved have not bought into the change.  This approach to change management is rarely financed appropriately and when difficulties arise they’re shut down because it’s much easier to fail when most of the firm is indifferent or against the program.

The takeaway: the Customer Intimacy journey begins with employee buy-in.

The Customer Intimacy Journey: A Blueprint for Change

The challenge for any significant change initiative is maintaining motivation and focus throughout the effort.

Most change initiatives fail because of this very issue. Both individuals and corporations suffer from this phenomenon – personal improvement (like weight loss) is difficult because the change in habit must be maintained for a long period of time without seeing results immediately.

A large enterprise has even more difficulty undergoing a significant change, particularly when the change is as radical as business model migration.

Business model change impacts more aspects of the business than any other change initiative, and therefore requires a longer period of time to accomplish. We all know that is extremely difficult to move a significant initiative forward because few are truly dedicated to effort and its success although in the company’s interest does not easily align with individual’s interest.

Let’s look at the different constituencies:

  • First, you have individuals who will suffer the normal challenge in any type of change. They will have to be bought in to the reasons and be able to align it to their career and compensation.
  • Second, you have the leadership in charge of accomplishing this effort – they are naturally concerned about how this is going to affect their career and want to minimize whets expected of them. 
  • Third, you have the senior executive group – many times they are forced to live in an ADD type world which works against a continued focused effort. And, can sometimes force efforts to focus on outputs to early and skill key infrastructure or process steps.   
  • Finally, you have all the naysayers and the people not involved in the initiative.  They rarely see they value and because of their needs – staffing, funding and other support – they find themselves (sometimes inadvertently) undermining the effort.

Now let’s look at the customer intimacy journey itself: 

There are many factors that must align in order for a company to build and operate their Intimacy Engine™.  This will be accomplished by examining the four phased journey – form, commercialize, scale and dominate.

Let’s introduce them now and examine them in greater detail as we go.  I will say after assisting over 40 companies through the journey, the process is more art than science and the sooner we understand this the better. 

Form – As the name implies this stage is about forming a new business.  This phase also includes getting the Companies head around the need for the new business model and selecting the leader of the effort.  Further, selecting the target focus – be it market, or product group, or customer segment. This includes building the initial True Solutions™ sets for the target, gaining initial talent and taking the solutions to market.   Much of this effort should be considered R&D – even though GAAP rules do not recognize it as such. Finally, this phase includes protecting the effort from the organization.

Commercialize – You know you are in this stage when you can predict outcomes from the business unit.  This phase includes expanding the initial offerings into a robust portfolio of solutions.  Further, this phase demonstrates the ability to pull through product and harvest accounts (explained later) – thereby fundamentally changing the relationship those accounts have with the Company. Additional targets can be added during this Phase.  Finally, this phase begins to change the market’s perception of your brand and abilities.

Scale – This phase begins the re-integration with the broader business.  For this to be achieved the unit must develop critical mass and have completely adopted the skills necessary to be effective in the new business model – this cannot be over emphasized –  running an Intimacy Engine™ business is much like the military – everyone must know their role and be able to adjust to client situations.  Unlike traditional hierarchical businesses – the person at the client makes the callthere is little time to call corporate and gain approval.  Also, at this time the full extent of the Intimacy Engine™ for this business should be understood and all True Solutions™ sets should be either developed or being developed.

Dominate – This Is the Phase where the entire business operates in the new model.  This often requires reorganization and final adjustments to the staff organizations that support the business.  Marketing is dedicated to the new True Solutions™ sets and key executives come from the new business and management development comes through the new business model.

In the next set of entries, we’ll dive into the details of each stage – the activities, key abilities etc. and we’ll look at the broader perspectives in customer intimacy business model transition, including where to start, how to protect the initiative, how to guide the initiative, how to fund the initiative, leveraging an organic change model, and more.

The Sustainable Advantage: Shifting Mindsets and Business Models from Innovation to Customer Intimacy

What’s wrong with driving your business using the historic S-curve (innovation) model?  The innovation model has virtually dominated all literature, organization design, sales training, and investment strategies since the world economic boom following World War II. This is the common and erroneous management belief that we can continue to grow our business by improving current products and/or continuously making breakthrough innovations.

We call it the Drug of Innovation.

Many of the great B-to-B brands that appeared during the last century were created riding a breakthrough innovation – copiers, computers, etc. The ability of these companies to differentiate their brand through their products and drive significant margins-  as their products were first adopted by the market then improved for the markets – was a very long cycle. 

To understand how much that’s changed and will continue to change look at the PC life cycle – introduced by Apple, then quickly dominated by IBM – then a free for all with many entering, exiting and dominating (rags to riches to rags) changing all the time.  Today leadership oscillates between a few players with cost becoming the driving factor, as important, if not more important than product innovation. 

For the few firms that ride a breakthrough technology to market, the innovation model should be the dominant business model and can be effective for a time.  But for many established companies particularly in North America and Europe, the ability to differentiate a product or product line through feature enhancement has a very limited life cycle that is being ruthlessly compressed as more global product players come on-line particularly from China and India.  Furthermore, unless you happen to be Steve Jobs, the ability to predict breakthrough technologies that create whole new markets is virtually impossible.

We find the diagram below almost always describes a company’s experience with innovation.

As we all know price differential begins to be pressured after a time for new products or product enhancements.  The issue for most firms is that this compression of price differential comes ever more quickly.  Soon firms and often entire industries are trapped in a no-win game of musical chairs as they take turns leading with ever-fleeting advantages based on product innovation.  Not only does commoditization rapidly effect their valuations but the musical chairs inevitably causes firms to innovate past their customers’ real needs – thereby sinking hundreds of millions into products that few need at any price.

Question: When should firms get off this Drug of Innovation?

I believe the first step for most companies is for someone (sometimes anyone) to accept that the musical chairs cycle of innovation will slowly strangle the business.   This is so important – someone must see clearly that the emperor has no clothes.  Then they must accomplish a couple of things:

  1. Gain an understanding what the business model options are, what the correct direction is and become familiar with journey,
  2. Build a community within the business coalescing around these truths.

This in itself is very difficult – as I mentioned before, the innovation model dominates our business culture – we are prisoners of our mindsets.

We believe that an understanding of the business model choices immediately helps a business see its few options.  Historically there have been three distinct business models that have been successful – Innovation, Low cost, and Intimacy

That is not to say that each component is not pursued but that the business model used is driven primarily by one of these components.

Let’s define customer intimacy as a business model: organizing business efforts to identify ideas to address true customer problems/opportunities at the highest level, bring those to the customers, and living with them to take advantage of those ideas. 

It is a complete integrated model – not a sales program.  At best, customers see you as an extension of themselves.

This blog is dedicated to the importance of this topic and the how of getting there -and there is much how. But let’s, for a moment, take one aspect of it for illustrative purposes.

If we are going to be preoccupied with identifying/creating ideas that fundamentally help our clients (and lets call them clients – customers buy things, we serve the best interest of clients) then more of our R&D spend must be about those ideas.  Let me give an example:  let’s say you provide some complex equipment for hospitals.  Some R&D spend must be on the broader Hospital problems – how to lower error rates in the hospital, how to get patients through faster.  You must bring better ideas to the client then the consulting firms they deal with today.  I know this seems impossible and it’s not clear how it helps sell your current products – I assure you it’s not impossible (in fact it’s relatively straightforward) and it fundamentally impacts sales of current products. 

About Me: Dean McMann on Customer Intimacy

Welcome. My name is Dean McMann and I’m the co-founder, CEO, and Senior Partner at McMann and Ransford. We provide services and advice to many of the world’s largest companies. I have personally led engagements working with dozens of firms including: IBM, Xerox, GE, Kodak, Oracle, HP, Peoplesoft, Cardinal Healthcare, Fujitsu, McKesson and Trane as they have undertaken efforts to leverage the solution-led business model.

What did these firms have in common?

They were all taking the journey from product-centered companies to service-driven business models – based on the notion that “customer intimacy” surpasses product sales for its value-creating potential.

Because of competitive pressure, many corporations have begun the journey to become solution led; or as we say “started to explore the Intimacy Engine™ business model.” We’ve worked closely with dozens and dealt with hundreds of these companies and most are daunted with this business model change. Let’s be clear, there is a promised land that allows companies to weather storms because they have become indispensable to their customers by building large portfolios of ideas that solve true important business problems – not just selling products, bundling products and services, adding professional services, or marketing solutions (think IBM and their success during the recent downturn).

This blog will be focused on the components of the transformative journey – what gets in the way, what keeps many from success, and what are the best ways to get through the journey.

Most complex B2B businesses need to move to this model at some point in their business cycle – particularly when they find that their innovation curve is no longer providing a long period of price differentiation for new products or product extensions.

However, most companies do not see the journey as moving to a new business model for which their current structures and measures are ill equipped. Further, many believe it is just a new way of selling – like so many sales training courses over the last 20 years. And finally, because this transformation is so different and difficult, they under-invest and set short-term success hurdles that cannot be met – and then get frustrated and quit. Often the very things that made these corporations successful in their high growth periods stand in their way moving to the new model.

I think the customer intimacy journey affects every level of an organization: corporate, operating divisions, sales, R&D, financial measures, staff functions and maybe most important of all – individual leaders – struggling to make sense of the journey and how they can be successful. Through it all I have become more convinced of the power of the customer intimacy engine as the key business model for survival.

This blog is our response to this challenge. We want to ask questions, discuss alternatives, and help shed some light on customer intimacy as a business model. Specifically, we hope to:

  • Advance our collective knowledge of the definitions, trends, and technologies for Intimacy Engine™ models.
  • Examine the strategic alternatives available, i.e., how are business models going to change?
  • Define an Intimacy Engine™ maturity model – the choices and use cases for large enterprises in a way that makes sense to leaders
  • Develop recommendations for creating an Intimacy Engine™ discipline within your organization; present sample business justifications supporting “intimacy engine” investments.
  • Define and understand the critical factors that contribute to improving customer intimacy.
  • Discuss lessons learned from our experience over the past twenty years.
  • Create a framework for measuring the Intimacy Engine™.
  • Disseminate information on next practices, news, events, and relevant information on a regular basis.

I also think it would be helpful to examine the reasons for lack of success by companies seeking to change. Like any change initiative of this magnitude – many fail. I want to lower that failure rate and assist companies in understanding what does not and what does work.

Finally, we will examine best practices from top to bottom:

  • What do the executives need to be doing?
  • What are the organization models?
  • What are the roles of HR, Finance, IT?
  • How are true solutions created?
  • What is the best portfolio model?
  • How are account relations altered?

In essence, we’re here to help as you take the solution-led customer intimacy journey.