Recently I was working with a new client, the owner of a one year old manufacturer of retail signage. It was our introductory chat. I asked him how he would describe his business model. His first words were,” I want to build a sales company that makes things.”
I stopped right in my conversational tracks and remarked what a wonderful and unusual metaphor. He told me that he had come to realize that for all his expertise in the design, materials, and manufacture of his products, finding, winning, and keeping customers is the most important focus of a business. Excelling at operations is only useful to the extent that you have customers. This may seem obvious, even painfully so. Nevertheless many manufacturing company leaders are more focused on the making than finding more customers.
This reminded me of early work experiences as an engineer at C&K Components (Newton, MA). This company was so focused on customers that everyone down to those on the factory floor knew the names of all of the customers. I had been tasked to design a custom switch for HP. The design made its way to the factory floor for production without a hitch. One morning I was in my cubicle when I heard a loud woman’s voice across the room asking, “Where is this Mark Orton?!?!”
I stood up and waved. She rumbled over waving a shop order packet above her head, not waiting to arrive to say, still in a loud voice, “What’s wrong with you, don’t you know that HP never gets this spring. They need a 3 oz. actuation force!!” She was right of course.
At C&K you could never go wrong making a customer happy. This culture penetrated throughout the organization. Sales people fearlessly made promises and everyone worked to make them come true. It was chaotic, but energizing, and in those days C&K was the powerhouse in their markets.
C&K was a sales company that manufactured things. They were incredibly good at the design and manufacturing, but it all existed only to serve customers.