The Customer First


I posted an article titled “Staff First or Customer First?” In that article, I wrote that if we care for our employees, they will in turn care for our customers. Today, I am writing another article titled “Customer First” because I wanted to straighten out the confusion that is always caused by this simple statement.

The 5 Stakeholders

In any business, there are 5 stakeholders: business founders, shareholders, employees, customers, business partners.

Business is a Team Game

If a business is to grow, the entrepreneur needs to grow a team. He cannot do everything himself. The rest of team comprises the shareholders, employees and business partners.

I already wrote about employees in my earlier article titled “Staff First or Customer First?”, so I would not repeat it here.

Shareholders come third. They lend the entrepreneur money for his business and he wants to make sure that they receive something in return. Stock holders are not the same as shareholders. Stock holders drop the shares when the businesses do not do well: They trade the stocks. Shareholders on the other way, invests in the business.

Partners are the ones that he outsourced or buy other things that the entrepreneur needs to get done for his business but not the focus of his solution. They come fourth.

Trade is About Exchange

All businesses are essentially trades. In a trade, two parties exchange with each other what both of them want or need.

Putting customer first does not mean putting them on the pedestal or on the throne. What that statement meant is that the business is working to provide solutions to the problems faced by the business’ target customers in whatever they require. That requirement could be sustenance or something they want to achieve.

That is the reason why Walmart has 158 distribution centers in the United States, with each center supporting 90 to 100 stores in a 200-mile radius.

The entrepreneur understands that the business will be truly successful if the customer become more successful by using the solutions that the business offers. That is not measured in revenue size nor growth.

Sales, Marketing versus Product Development

As an entrepreneurial business grow, the business step further and further away from the customer. In businesses that had already divided into specialized functions, employees who applied and worked in jobs would be boxed in by their job description. This included top management staff those gained “corporate experience” and rose through the ranks.

In such businesses, Sales look at making money; Marketing trumpets the products and services; Product Development looks at developing solutions for the customer. Most often, there is no specialized Product Development because research and development cost money. Often, the Head of Sales gets promoted into the Managing Director position, and with the Head of Finance as the second likely candidate because the first generate the sales revenue and the second control the flow of money.

The business simply tries to grow by selling more of what it has or sometimes even selling someone else’s products or copying their service model. The business is always after money. Mission and vision statements are about building empires. When businesses do this, they start on the journey to their decline.

That corporate mindset is responsible for a number of dysfunctions in businesses. It is also the reason why in one of earlier article, I wrote that leaders are found; they are not developed.

What about Apple, Alibaba etc?

Those businesses like Apple and Alibaba grew or made their comeback because the entrepreneurs is or was alive. They had their feet to the ground. They are always searching to meet their customers’ needs. The Customer (needs) is first in this sense.

The Alibaba Story

Below is the Youtube video “Jack Ma: Alibaba has exerted a great impact on China”. It WILL inspire you. If I have a choice, I want to work for a business that makes a difference. What about you?


Steve Jobs: I Never Did It for the Money

Steve Jobs: Why Xerox Failed