Conduits of Connectivity

So how do you develop relationships with your customers – or what I call “conduits of connectivity?” There’s an old management theory which was propagated back in the 1970s called “management by walking about,” or “MBWA.” The idea there was that, as you walked around the floors of your company, you could see opportunities to improve efficiencies, get more connected to your employees, reduce cost, improve sales, etc. – it was a really intelligent approach to getting inside your company.

The best thing you can do in the area of developing conduits of connectivity in the area of innovation is to spend time with your customers. I know that sounds really simple, but most companies don’t do it. In fact, we talk about what we call the inverted pyramid. With the inverted pyramid – I call it the “inverted pyramid syndrome” – most companies have their executives at the highest levels – the top of the pyramid – making most decisions about new product and service offerings, yet they have the least amount of contact with actual customers.

Conversely, “front end people” – the customer service representatives, service technicians that have high levels of customer connectivity – usually have virtually no voice in the products and services offerings available to your valued customers. So the first thing that has to happen is that people really involved in decision making need to get out to see where the opportunities are.

Recently we had the opportunity to work with a surgical company. We were surprised to find out that there was no one from inside their surgical product development team who had actually been in surgery within the last 24 months – 2 years. Here they were developing technologies for a market that they didn’t even see. We changed that, and the results were amazing.

That’s what it means to get connected. Another great example – and again, it’s one of my favorites – is the Sierra Nevada Brewery. When they’re getting ready to launch a new product, when they feel that they’ve really gotten it right; they go into their tap room, which is a beautiful restaurant and bar, and they sit there with the patrons who have been coming there for years. They typically do it on Thursday nights, which are “locals” nights usually filled with serious beer drinkers who are very passionate about their product. They allow them – encourage them – to truthfully answer questions like, “Is this product right?” But they don’t just listen to the experts; the high level beer drinkers; they listen to the occasional beer drinkers to find out whether a product really hits its mark.

But they go beyond that. Ken Grossman, their CEO, is an amazing guy. His openness is incredible. He’ll talk to his competitors and ask them their opinion. He’ll talk to people who would be seen as the enemy by corporations today, and the beauty of that collaboration is amazing. As a result, he consistently makes the best product in the world. This is what it means to develop conduits of connectivity.

Remember: Manage by Walking About. Innovate While Walking About.

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