Thursday, July 05, 2007

Want revenue growth? Find new set of customers

From Business Week interview with Clayton Christensen:

In The Innovator's Dilemma you warn that the maxim "staying close to your customers" can lead you astray. Wouldn't a cursory reading of the book say "don't listen to your customers?"

You're exactly right. The cursory reading is "don't listen." The deep reading is you have to be careful which customers you listen to, and then you need to watch what they do, not listen to what they say. This is catching on with one of the big automobile companies in Detroit. If you look for the jobs that people hire a car to do, the opportunities for innovation are extraordinary.

There are about 30 million Americans for whom [a car] serves as their office. Isn't it interesting that nobody has designed a car to work as an office? They pull up to Starbucks (SBUX) and go in to use their T-Mobile hot spot or if they're in Silicon Valley they'll pull up next to someone's apartment building to mooch off their Wi-Fi because they can't access the Internet in their car.

They stop at a stoplight, their notebook computer falls onto the floor. They can't recharge their computer because the electrical system was not designed to do it and there's no docking station. They throw sales literature in the backseats. Nobody's designed a car to do that job. If you understand the job, the opportunities to differentiate are just extraordinary.

To do that, though, you do have to "stay close to your customers" to see what jobs they need. In a sense, they will lead you to the answer, not astray. Shouldn't Dilemma have been clearer on that, or expanded on that idea?

Yes. The problem is when you say "listen to your customers," your customers are only going to lead you in a direction that they want to go in. Generally, that will never lead you to disruptive growth. You've got to find that new set of customers, and listen to them and follow them. That's the trick. Once you have customers, they hold you captive to their needs.

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