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AA ...          
Attentiveness Advantage
business strategy that is excellent conceptually all-too-frequently fails in execution. This is equally true for the Fortune 500 ® corporation with a multi-volume strategic plan as it is for the emerging business where a fine strategy may simply reside intuitively in the owner/manager's head. Strategic failures are at least as often due to faulty execution as they are to a conceptual deficiency.

          In some circles, "sweat the details" has become a popular and perceptive maxim. This recognizes that painstaking execution is the only assurance of strategic attainment. The success of most ventures can be largely attributed to their meticulous concentration on the details of the operation.

          Here is where the emerging business can often discover an important competitive advantage. AA ... The Attentiveness Advantage! People like to deal with people; people avoid dealing with institutions unless there is no alternative. The emerging business has the substantial advantage of being human rather than institutional. This can offer us a critical edge.

          Customers are the lifeblood of every enterprise. Customer service is not simply responding courteously to customer complaints; customer service is serving the customer from product design through product support. To serve the customer, we have to know our customer fullyfrom their present product needs to anticipating their future product expectations. And we must strive to know their customers as well as they do. This demands developing the closest possible personal relationships with our customers. It is essential that we listen to our customer carefully, and that we hear and respond to what we are being told. Quite commonly, customer concerns and dissatisfactions may not be articulated fully. For example:

          Delivery Improvements. Our increasing understanding of the customer's operations may reveal to us that our conventional packaging or delivery lot size are presenting the customer with avoidable inconveniences. Without even being asked, offering to reconfigure the lot size, packaging and delivery patterns may bring the customer unanticipated benefits. Our attentiveness to this detail can enable us to better serve the customer thereby enhancing our relationship.

          Billing and Financing. Revised billing and payment procedures — even financing — may be particularly advantageous to the customer. For both the buyer and the seller, billing and financing are often critical components of the relationship. By alleviating a problem the customer may not even have articulated, we strengthen our connectedness with the customer.

          Customer's Competitive Challenges. Better understanding some of the competitive challenges being faced by our customer, product development efforts can be focused on ways our product can fortify the customer's competitive position. Today, supplier's are increasingly serving as— their customer's research, engineering and product development teams. Rather than remaining with the support troops, we become increasingly irreplaceable as we join our customer on the competitive battle lines.

          Customer's Performance. Augmenting and assuring the customer's premier performance moves us into the MVP ranks. They cannot afford not to have us on their team. Our job is to understandexactly how our customer functions, and to carefully provide them with effective and synchronous backup. We are playing with them at the line of scrimmage, not simply selling them numbered jerseys.

          Crisis Response. "Well, that's their problem!" When our customer has a problem, we have a problem. But for the attentive emerging business, helping the customer to resolve a crisis can be an opportunity to serve our customer, to deepen our association and our customer's dependence upon us. This is an opportunity to roll up our sleeves and become a part of the crisis team. This is an opportunity to build a new camaraderie. The forge of crisis so often produces the strongest alliances. Extraordinary times yield extraordinary friends.

          "Sweat the details." The emerging business is uniquely well-positioned to be aware of and to respond swiftly to customer needs, problems, and dissatisfactions. No need for sophisticated customer surveys; we should know exactly what is going on by keeping our eyes and ears open every time we drop by their facilities. We are to be constantly alert, involved and inquisitive about every aspect of our customer's business. AA! ... The Attentiveness Advantage! This is a powerful tool available to the owner/manager of every emerging business. It offers a critical competitive advantage not readily available to the Fortune 500 ® corporation. Never forget; people like to deal with people!

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