What's on the Minds of Lead Customer-Centric Executives in 2006?

Patty’s Visionaries Share Their Visions, Their Realities, and What’s Working for Them

May 25, 2006

Twice a year, we gather our leading customer-centric executives to share their pain and their visions. This year, we found that many of our “Visionaries” are engaging with customers in new ways to co-design better offerings and experiences. Visionaries are also developing and syndicating branded online tools and services so that customers will encounter these syndicated services on many different parts of the Web and/or on kiosks or phones.


Since 1998, when our first business book, Customers.com , was published, we’ve been recruiting and nurturing the visionary customer-centric executives whose stories we’ve told in the pages of our books and in case studies. Some of these executives are paying clients of ours. Some aren’t. But they all share the characteristics of being “lead customers” for those of us who want to understand what customer-centric executives care about, what they’re trying to accomplish and what new techniques and approaches they’ve invented along the way.

What are the Characteristics of Lead Customers?

In my upcoming book, Outside Innovation, I explain that lead customers are the 10 percent (or fewer) of your customer base who are the most passionate, thoughtful and insightful about the intersection between what they want to accomplish and the solutions and resources your firm offers (or could offer) to help them meet their desired outcomes.

1. Their self image is deeply connected to the problem domain at hand—in this case, delivering great, innovative customer-centric experiences, products and services to increase the number of profitable customers and the loyalty and walletshare of those customers.

2. They are passionate (positively or negatively) about the outcomes they want and frustrated about the issues that get in the way of achieving those outcomes.

3. They are influential in their organizations.

4. They have thought deeply about their problem space/domain of expertise.

5. They are insightful about their own context and they can easily articulate their conditions of satisfaction (what works for them; what won’t work).

6. They are imaginative and visionary.

7. They are pragmatic and realistic about the need for viable business models and win/win solutions.

WHY DO LEAD CUSTOMERS VALUE COMMUNITY? Like most lead customers, our Visionaries like talking to and learning from their peers. It’s often lonely being at the forefront of your field. You learn most from others who, like you, are charting new territory.

WHO ARE PATTY’S VISIONARIES? They are the people who are actively transforming their companies from the outside in. They are not only the customer champions in their firms, they are also the visionary leaders who pull their companies out in front of their competitors by charting new courses, by experimenting with new business models and with the use of new technologies to transform the customer experience. They are highly respected and influential in their firms.

Their companies range in size from start-ups to multi-billion dollar multinationals. The industries represented are very diverse—from financial services, and retail to manufacturing and not-for-profits. Their job titles range from CEO and Senior Vice Presidents to Directors. Their purviews range from company strategy to business development to e-business to marketing to technology strategy and execution. They have clout. They set and influence their companies’ direction. Most of all, they deliver results to the bottom line.

Visionaries are human. They try things and fail. They make mistakes. They’re often trying to change obdurate corporate cultures. Sometimes they fall on their swords. So it’s great to be able to get together in a safe space to talk about some of these failures and frustrations as well as to share lessons learned.

Taking the Pulse of Lead Customers

Twice a year, we bring as many of our visionaries together in one place as we can. This gives us the opportunity to learn from one another in a high bandwidth, face-to-face setting. Our most recent face-to-face meeting took place in May 2006.

We rely on these lead-customer sessions to help us anticipate where the rest of our customers will be going in six to twenty-four months. This early warning system has worked well for us in helping us anticipate and meet the needs of customer-centric executives for over fifteen years. The people who are invited to join this by-invitation only group value the ability to interact candidly with others who are facing many of the same issues. They report that they always come away from these meetings with renewed energy and practical ideas they can use.

This report is a brief sanitized synopsis describing some of the high level take-aways from this session without divulging anyone’s identity or anyone’s “secret sauce.”


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