What business are you really in?

So think about your business, what is the real outcome your customer is looking for?

A few years ago I was having lunch with a friend of mine, Brian Babcock, the former owner and founder of Babcock Transit Lines. Babcock was a local school bus company in the Niagara region. Over the years Babcock won numerous awards for sales, service, leadership and innovation but I think what prided Brian the most was that he never lost a client once he got them. He said it almost happened once but the parents revolted. Nobody but Babcock was driving their kids.

Brian said the secret to his success was in the fact that he understood what business he was really in. You see, Brian realized that Babcock Transit wasn’t really about bussing. No Babcock was about getting kids safely to and from school everyday. Once Brian realized this and he focused his business on making Babcock safer for the kids his success continued to grow. Sure this meant extra maintenance, coordinating schedules with parents and further training for drivers but that was all part of the value Babcock Transit defined itself by. Anyone could drive a bus but only Babcock knew what parents were really buying.

I had a similar experience when I started at Microsoft. Originally I found myself struggling to sell Microsoft courseware until one day I realized I wasn’t really in the courseware business. I was in the helping the students get Microsoft Certified business. I realized that students didn’t necessarily want the courses but they did want the Microsoft Certification that followed. Becoming Microsoft Certified was a key to better jobs and industry recognition. So in the end, I was really in the Pride and Recognition business. When I started to find ways to create more pride and recognition in the industry my courseware business went to number one in the world!

Knowing that Brian was in the “Get the kids safely to and from school” business and I was in the “Pride and Recognition” business let me ask you, what business are you really in? Often times we find ourselves getting too focused on the product we sell and we convince ourselves that this is what we do. But customers don’t buy a product just on a whim, customers buy a product to solve a problem or satisfy a need. Do you really think Starbucks is in the coffee business? If they were they probably wouldn’t get $4.00 for a cup of coffee would they? If McDonalds was solely in the burger business why are they one of the largest toy distributors in the world?

So think about your business, what is the real outcome your customer is looking for? Why are they even buying what you sell? It’s easy to provide a product or service today but to master the marketplace you need to find the little hidden opportunities to add irreplacable value.

The same can be said for working with business partners. Do you know what business your partners are really in? Do you understand how they make money? Do you know how your product helps them make more money? At Microsoft, I would remind every partner that Microsoft was in the business of selling software. If they wanted to be successful working within Microsoft they needed to help us understand how a relationship with them would help us sell more software. My managers hated that I would say this to the partners but it was true. The people who focused their success on our success won the lions share of our attention.

This month why not start thinking about what your customer does with what you sell and explore new ways to create even more value.

Curt Skene