George S. Day and Christine Moorman

Rethinking Customer Solutions

Monday Sep 27, 2010

Mental models matter. They are simplifying frameworks that reflect our assumptions, norms and rules of thumb. We have seen profound differences in the mental models of outside-in and inside-out firms. Inside-out firms view customer solutions as “bundles of products and services that help us sell more.” The outside-in view is that customer solutions “are designed to help our customers make money – to our mutual benefit.” To diagnose, it is helpful to ask whose problem the solution addresses: the firm’s problem or the customer’s problem?

The disparities between the two mindsets were highlighted elegantly by a recent study that first asked, the senior managers of seventeen B2B firms what solutions meant to them. They answered, “integrated bundles of products and services, customized to each customer’s requirements, where we share some of the risk.” When their customers were asked what they wanted from a customer solution, they told a different story. Bundles and risk sharing were only part of the solution. Customers also wanted meaningful co-creation of new products, help with deployment of the solutions, and on-going service support. Reasonable expectations indeed. Not surprisingly, they were often disappointed.

Firms in B2B markets should take this study to heart, and stand in their customers’ shoes to learn what they really want. Then, look inside their firm to figure out what stands in the way of satisfying their customers’ requirements. Is it a mismatch of incentives, organizational silos, lack of accountability? If these barriers can be removed, the firm surely will gain a substantial advantage.

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