Several examples from different industries, each reflecting the essential role of the customer in breakthrough innovation:


An international seed company saw its customer as the farmer who planted those seeds. But in looking at the value chain in which the company operated, we knew there were many customers downstream from the farmer (mills, storage, feed lots, manufacturers, dairies, retail outlets, etc.) who were beginning to work together in new ways. Those customers had a variety of needs that were often different from the farmers’ needs, and which had major implications for the company’s products. Based on that, the company has revised its concept of customer, and is actively working with downstream partners to guide it in creating seeds with different characteristics that meet their needs. These new products and relationships are positioning the company for a far more successful future.

A software company had fallen victim to a common trap – that of having internal people design what they wanted to create, or what they thought the customer would want, without really knowing what was important to customers. Our discussions with current customers, past customers and potential customers revealed large gaps between internal perceptions and customer wants and needs. This resulted in a prioritized set of opportunities for new services and software features.

A pharmaceutical company had designed web sites intended to meet the needs of one of its customer groups (doctors who are “Opinion Leaders”) – but these were not being used. We learned what was really important to these doctors, and created a complete rework of a pilot website and a model for all other company websites. We also identified three major opportunities for the industry: documenting the ROI for Opinion Leaders, reengineering the process by which they are identified and managed, and forming an industry coalition to speak with one voice on matters that are threatening market share and viability.

A food retailer had targeted its store brand at purely price conscious shoppers who did not pay as much attention to quality. Knowledge we gained from customers identified the opportunity to move the store brand more upscale, with a guaranty to equal national brands at lower cost. This was more in line with the target market of the chain, and fit better with the customers who contributed most to the chain’s profit. Once changed, market share and profitability of store brand soared.

Additional Examples from Our Work Experience

US Grocery Industry. Consultant and facilitator to leadership team that planned and led collaborative joint industry effort – Efficient Consumer Response (ECR). Work included help with building alliance of leaders of 125 retailers, distributors and manufacturers; developing structure, assessment, strategy, detailed plan, monitoring, problem-solving. Results were many – cost savings from waste removed and re-engineered processes, set of industry best practices tested and documented, frequent partnering between new allies, etc.

Kroger. Consulted on strategy and problem solving at corporate, division, merchandising, manufacturing and functional levels. Guided work on private label product determination (categories, quality levels, branding, etc.); facilitated sessions to determine store of the future; guided early partnering with manufacturers. Created program to foster innovation and build leadership throughout the company. Analyzed differences between best and worst stores, identified critical variables, and designed program to upgrade store productivity.

DuPont. Co-designed a unique assessment / strategy formulation / project implementation methodology, and co-led its use with leadership of 13 strategic business units and functions. Focus was on the value chain and downstream customers. Included evaluation of current strategy, systems and processes, culture, assets, competition, etc. Workshops included evaluation of strategy by leadership team, and development of a new strategy. Opportunities were identified and prioritized, projects undertaken to capitalize on these. Also conducted analysis of IS outsourcing plan, identified critical deficits, and consulted on plan to correct these to reduce outflow of best minds. Consulted on formulation of U.S. region; consulted on evolution of key business unit from U.S. centric to a true global approach.

Ford. Consulted on reengineering of design-build process, resulting in higher quality, shorter cycle time and smoother innovation. Guided creation of triage process for design-build, delineating and documenting the flow for all-new, major and minor vehicle builds. Consulted on design-build process of major new, highly successful car line.

National HMO. Consulted on 24 month turn-around. Include development of new strategy and roll-out to organization. Guided in-sourcing of previously out-sourced core process, with no slip in customer service when switch thrown to re-activate. Guided work to determine major shift in physical facilities; implementation of new health care systems; new understanding of and focus on customers; and major improvements in most shared services. Created core group of 25 internal consultants to carry on the work.