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The Business Forum Journal


It is All About The Customer


By David J. Gardner



My very first entrepreneurial venture was to put together a band to perform for an eighth grade graduation dance. Here is what happened.

A local junior high school contacted our high school music department to inquire if they knew of a band that could play for their eighth grade graduation dance. My music teacher approached me about this opportunity and I said immediately said what any aspiring musician would say to being given an opportunity to perform his or her first paid live performance: �yes�I can do that!�

I was immediately awarded the �gig� as we musicians call it. There was no audition, no discussion of musical requirements or expectations, etc. Getting this gig was really easy I recall thinking. I put together a jazz quartet: trumpet, guitar, bass and drums and created all the music we would perform at the 3-hour dance.

After the first hour, we took a break. In retrospect, I suppose it should have been important that no eighth graders danced during the first hour but I thought nothing of it � I assumed that this was as new for them as it was for us � they had just never been to a graduation dance before.

A teacher approached soon approached me to tell me why the kids were not dancing: it was the music � the wrong music. It was not that the music was bad � it just was not right for this audience.

And, then it hit me. I had put together a jazz quartet to play what I wanted to play and never even considered what the paying customer � the eighth graders � would want to hear and dance to. It was all about me pulling off my first paid performance playing what I like to play without any thought or regard for my paying customer. The music would have been great for my parents and grandparents, but I never considered whether what we planned to play would work for my paying customers.

How could I have been so short sighted? I am sure it had little to do with the fact I was a freshman in high school.

I quickly caucused with my fellow musicians about what we could do to salvage the next 2 hours of the dance. We decided we needed to instantaneously transform into a rock band. So, for the next two hours, the majority of what we played involved the loud, raucous and highly-innovative tune by Iron Butterfly called In-a-gadda-da-vida. The dance floor filled, the kids were smiling and dancing and we had fun improvising around music that we never would never have dreamed of playing.

This story illustrates many things:

It is really easy to forget about the customer when you get wrapped up in what you want to do

When you forget about the customer, you put your future at risk

Once you realize you are in trouble, you either pivot � make a significant course correction � or your business continues to struggle and suffer until it dies.

In a San Jose Mercury News article on May 24, 2013 called The Pitch: New Venture Capital Q&A Feature Debuts with Paul Santinelli at North Bridge, Paul, a venture capitalist, was asked: What is the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make? He responded,

�Having been an entrepreneur in the first bubble, I can speak from experience: Not determining if there is a real business to be built. As a founder, I was always enamored with what we were building and why it was "exactly" what the doctor ordered. Had I listened to our first VP of Sales and realized, "Hey, the market does not want X, they want Y and are willing to pay for it," I might have been able to move faster to a more acceptable solution.�

Ultimately, it is all about the customer: how well you connect with them, create engagement and adoption with your product or service, and keep them waiting on the edge of their seats for what you are going to do for them next.

David J. Gardner is a Fellow of The Business Forum Institute and held senior management positions in Product Development, Manufacturing, Sales, Marketing, Customer Service and Product Management.  He joined Tandem Computers in 1979 where he was responsible for Corporate Documentation Standards for Tandem's highly configurable and expandable computer systems. In 1983, he designed and implemented a Configuration Guide for Dialogic Systems instituting a process that greatly simplified a complex, modular product such that the field sales organization and international OEM customers could easily define their order requirements. This methodology satisfied the product definition needs of sales, marketing, engineering, manufacturing, customer service and finance. David founded his consulting practice in 1991.  He is a graduate of San Jose State University (BA) and Santa Clara University (MBA). David is a member of the Society for the Advancement of Consulting (SAC) and has been Board Approved in the Area of Configurable Product & Services Strategy and Implementation. In 2010, he was inducted in the Million Dollar Consultant Hall of Fame.  Out of over 1,000 consultants who have completed Alan Weiss�s mentoring program, only 26 have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Note:-- Dave Gardner can be reached on Twitter and you can check out his video describing why he is in business.

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