Bill McDermott, who went from teenage deli owner to SAP SE Chief Executive Officer, recently gave an inspirational talk about how focusing on the customer is the most important thing for any business to succeed. Below is a brief excerpt:
I came to the clear conclusion that there’s a perfect correlation between winners having dreams and accomplishing amazing things, but we all start somewhere. I traded in three part-time jobs to be a teenage entrepreneur running a delicatessen in Amityville Long Island. So I’m broke and somebody gives me a note for $5,500 which is $7,000 with interest, and I make the store a success. I keep it, then I miss one payment and I give the store back. That’s the deal.
What happens when you’re under complete pressure to deliver? You have to focus on one thing and one thing only, that’s the customer. I was between two very large conglomerates, Finer’s Supermarket over here and 7-Eleven over here. My little business is right in the middle.
What did I learn? I learned that the little one has to do what the big one is either structurally unable to do or simply unwilling to do… because they’re lazy.
We focused on three market segments:
One was senior citizens. What did we learn about senior citizens? They don’t want to leave the house, so we deliver. Then there were the blue-collar workers like my Dad, they were flush rich on Friday night and dead broke by Sunday morning. We give them credit and they keep coming back. But the hard part was getting those high school kids to walk a block and a half past 7-Eleven to come to my little store. After all, why would they?
Focus on the Customer:
One day, I said let me go down there to 7-Eleven to see what’s going on. I go down to the store and see 40 young people lined up outside the store and only 4 inside. I said to one of the people in the line, why are you all out here, there’s a big store in there and you’re standing here? They’re like, well they think we’re gonna take things. I said, don’t worry about all that, follow me down to my store, and I brought them down 40 at a time. I had a little trick though. I had built a video game room on the side of that store with Asteroids and Pac-Man.
I let them in 40 at a time, and at the end of a long day one of the young people said to me, Bill, when we want to be treated well, have good food, and play video games, we come to your store… and when we want to steal stuff we go to 7-Eleven!
It’s amazing, they talk a lot about CRM and fancy technologies. You know what my CRM system was, it was a window! I could see my customers getting off buses and cars and walking into my store. I knew everything about the 500 people that came in that store every day and I knew that without them returning, because they were very satisfied, the probability of my little business succeeding wasn’t very high at all.
The customer and the customer alone determines whether we win or we lose.