Indifference to key customer attributes is KILLING your growth


(This is the post associated with the November 23, 2015  national ACBJ column entitled, “How to become obsessed with explosive growth.”)


grow or die

Grow or die.  It’s that simple.

While many leaders can accurately identify the key attributes customers value most in the companies they patronize, these same leaders have a perplexing apathy toward those same “golden nugget” attributes.

Here’s the hitch, though: Virtually every senior leader I’ve met – particularly those in possession of an MBA – do not believe that investing heavily in game-changing attributes will drive significant PRG (profitable revenue growth).  Here’s what I say to that:  Every dollar spent is NOT an expense.  To realize a significant return involving anything, investments must be made.

For example, I’ve asked grocery store managers how important “fast customer checkout” is to them, and they each replied, “Very.”  When I then asked why there are long checkout lines at the most obvious, busiest times – complete with scores of frustrated customers – their answers were also the same:  “We have to control costs, or else.”  As an old boss used to say, “You cannot expense your way to profitability.”

Then there’s Wegman’s, where Robert Wegman used to stand off to the side with a stopwatch to measure exactly how long a customer spent at checkout.  Today, Wegman’s cashiers are always at the ready because checkout speed is an absolute obsession … an attribute they own because of their competitors’ indifference toward it.  Said another way, Indifference to Key Attributes = Sameness & Eventual Obsolescence.

Of course, the converse is therefore also true:  Key Customer Attribute Obsessions = Monopoly

Here’s a nice picture of a Wegman’s about to be fully staffed.  Notice the amount of checkout lanes necessary because of the volume of business they do.  Yes, obsess over customer-important attributes, and they will come in droves.

checkout lines at wegmans

Then there’s Patagonia, where founder Yvon Chouinard has been obsessed with environmentalism and company culture since Day One.  Those two obsessions have made the outdoor clothing firm a global icon, standing for something much larger than “outdoor apparel.”  How far can an obsession go in the name of owning a key customer attribute?  Explore the company’s Reno, NV-based repair center, where customers’ favorite items can be repaired, negating the need to buy new.

In fact, and to further the point, in 2011 the company ran a Black Friday ad in the New York Times stating:  “Don’t Buy This Jacket.”

patagonia ad don't buy this jacket

Counterintuitive to growing sales?  You bet.  Smart business centered around a core obsession?  YES!


PRG – the key to long term survival – isn’t that tough to achieve.  It’s a damn DECISION, one that is intentional and purposeful. If you’re self-assessing, ask yourself these three questions.  Only then will you know where you stand on the “obsession meter.”

  1. What proof do you have that your identified obsessions are industry and customer game-changers?
  2. What investment(s) have you made in these critical few areas, including time, money, training, measurement and leadership commitment and focus?
  3. How many management personnel have been FIRED because of their indifference toward these crucial obsessions?
Sean Stormes


Sean Stormes is Chief Value Designer of The Third Door®. His firm provides the most progressive concepts, methods, and PRG© (profitable revenue growth) framework and architecture available in the international marketplace to committed senior level business leaders who mean business.

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