The Holy Grail for companies and their investors is the ability to grow revenue and scale. But there is a necessary criteria, which is often overlooked: a CEO with a client-facing background and mindset.
Over the course of my career, I’ve witnessed an important correlation: CEOs whose companies perform the best and are most effective at achieving growth tend to be the ones with a focus on the customer-facing side of the business. They have trained themselves to be exceptionally engaging and attentive because they embrace the fact that 100% of their revenue comes from customers.
The simple truth is that you can’t be successful as a CEO without:
• A style that allows you to build relationships with your customers;
• The ability to really listen. Customers will tell you everything you need to know, but if you are doing all the talking you won’t hear them; and
• The self-awareness to relate to your customer, understand their needs and know the impact you are making.
What is the lesson for both novice and experienced CEOs?
First, to achieve success you need to focus on the following four things, and second, you won’t be able to succeed at any of these without engaging with your customers.
“At my first company we used to get paper checks and the pay stub read: “Brought to you by your clients,” which reminded everyone that none of this was possible without clients.”
1. Constantly deliver the P&L by prioritizing customer relationships. The simplicity of the name belies the tremendous amount of work that goes into achieving a great P/L. But what many CEOs fail to recognize is that these numbers come from relationships built with new clients, renewed clients and from upselling existing clients. Therefore, “deliver the P&L” really means nurture and grow your customer relationships above all else.
2. Consistently take market share from your competition. Spend time with your clients to understand the changing dynamics of their business. Listen carefully and learn their needs so you can modify your products or services to provide something that solves their problems better than anything your competitors are offering.
3. Prioritize innovation. Delivering new innovations to the market must be a priority, even when your numbers are strong. You can’t cut your way to greatness. Even if your P&L looks great, if you aren’t growing, your revenue will eventually go backward. You must consistently introduce new innovations based on your understanding of your customers’ needs.
4. Inspire your people to embrace your customer-focused philosophy. At my first company we used to get paper checks and the pay stub read: “Brought to you by your clients,” which reminded everyone that none of this was possible without clients. Ultimately, to drive great numbers and take market share, an organization needs a team of inspired people who value their customers.
Much of this advice favors the extrovert. But I’ve seen plenty of introverts, realizing the importance of these relationships, turn it on. If this is not in your nature, you need to augment your role. Great companies require an exceptional, dedicated head of sales/client relationships, and if that can’t be you, you’ll need to bring in someone who will thrive in the job. The only thing that matters in business is people: your employees and your customers.
Read more from Mike Salvino:
How A Former Accenture CEO Turned A Failing Leadership Into Growth