What Is Your Value-Add-itude?

From which direction does your definition of value flow — from you to the customer, or from the customer to you? This is another way of saying: Through which lens do you view what you sell — your lens, or the customer’s lens? Do you see your product or services as value-added or value-received?

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A few years ago, Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote about a phenomenon called selfing, “…that inevitable and incorrigible tendency to construct out of almost everything and every situation an I, me, and mine, and then to operate in the world from that limited perspective.” Everyone knows someone who processes every moment of reality through that limited-view prism called self. To that person, the world spins on his or her personal axis.

The latest phenomenon in the world of narcissism is called the “selfie.” This is the arms-length photograph people take of themselves to share with others in social media. The most famous of these is the three-way selfie taken by President Barack Obama, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and British Prime Minister David Cameron at the Nelson Mandela Memorial Service. Bad taste, fun, or harmless? You choose.

From which direction does your definition of value flow — from you to the customer, or from the customer to you? This is another way of saying: Through which lens do you view what you sell — your lens, or the customer’s lens? Do you see your product or services as value-added or value-received?

If you are customer-focused, you ask, “Why can’t we sell what they want to buy?” If you are seller-focused, you ask, “Why can’t they buy what we want to sell them?” If you are seller-focused: “They’re not buying what we’re selling.” If you are customer-focused: “That’s because we’re not selling what they’re buying.”

Henry Ford is credited with saying, “You can have any color car you want as long as it is black.” That is seller-focused thinking. He is also attributed as saying, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Hence, we face the innovator’s dilemma: Who knows what is best, you or the customer? Even the legendary Steve Jobs faced this dilemma, and once said, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Innovating from the customer’s perspective is customer-focused. Innovating because you like it is seller-focused. The relevant question is, “For whom are we doing this, us or the customer?” If you define value in customer terms, they reward your efforts by paying your price. Conversely, if you define value in your terms, you pay for it with a higher discount.

This is the distributor’s dilemma. You want to maximize your resources — inventory, people, and systems. You want the most return for your investment. This involves leverage — the practice of getting a lot from a little. Business processes exist for one reason. They create value for the customer. Why would you do anything that failed to create value for the customer? If it adds cost without value, it diminishes you in the market. It slows you down.

Viewing things from the customer’s perspective is one of the most liberating and efficient ways to sculpt your organization. If your company has a bundle of things that you do that fail to add value, stop doing them. This liberates time and other resources to focus on those things that will help you add value. The customer’s view of things is efficient because it helps you trim fat in the system. Again, if it fails to contribute value or momentum, shed it and operate more efficiently.

Too often, we fall in love with our own ideas and this affection blinds us to reality. This is especially true for business owners and entrepreneurs. You started the business with a great idea and built it into something of value.

Reinventing yourself to relevance keeps you viable. Reinventing your company through the eyes of the customer keeps you valuable. If you do things because you like doing things, remember that you are doing for yourself, not necessarily the customer. These sacred-cow ideas must be paid for by someone, and it will not be the customer that foots the bill.

Challenge your view. Through whose eyes do you process your value? Will you let go of an idea, strategy, or process if it fails to continue to add value? Do you have product lines that are no longer viable, but you like the folks you deal with? Reinventing yourself to relevance by viewing your business through the customer’s eyes does not mean abandoning your core or losing the soul of your company. A fresh set of eyes may help you solve old problems in new ways, see opportunities that your old eyes were not searching for, and satisfy customers the way that they want to be satisfied.

Tom Reilly is a professional speaker, sales trainer and author. He is literally the guy who wrote the book on Value-Added Selling. You may visit him online at www.TomReillyTraining.com

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