It Is A Mistake To Delegate The Responsibility Of Connecting With Your End Consumers To Someone Else

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I’ve been away on holiday for a few days and have just returned. Whilst I get back up to ‘speed’, I’m posting this piece that originally appeared on my Forbes.com column a couple of weeks ago as a follow to one of my recent interviews. I hope you enjoy it! ;)

 
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff, co-founders of Honest Tea, about their new book: Mission in a Bottle.

You can read the highlights of the interview and listen to the podcast here: How to create a successful, mission driven business in a profit driven world. Or, if you want to dive straight to the podcast you can listen to it on iTunes here.

I really enjoyed talking to Seth and Barry and I think they have produced a great book, for a number of reasons:

  • It’s not all ‘gloss’ like many stories of entrepreneurs made good;
  • It’s a warts ‘n all story of how they conceived, started and grew Honest Tea, an organic and Fair Trade brand, from zero to a turnover of just less than $100 million and then sold the company to Coca Cola;
  • With the help of Sungyoon Choi they’ve produced a graphic novel and something that stands out as being very different….a bit like their teas. Not since, Kensuke Okabayashi collaborated with Patrick Lencioni to produce a graphic novel (Manga-style) version of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team have I seen a business graphic novel as good as this; and
  • Finally, like Barry suggests in the interview, the book seems to have the power, because of its format, to reach across generations and, thus, will help inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.

However, putting the book aside for one moment, there is one big reason why, I believe, their story and what they have achieved stands out. That is how they have always stayed closely connected to their consumers despite the growth in the size and complexity of their firm.

For the first ten years, Seth and Barry personally answered every email that came into the company from their consumers. Even now, although he may not reply to all of them personally, Seth still sees every email that comes in to Honest Tea from their consumers.

They believe that this has been a key element in their success. This strategy proved particularly important when they were acquired by Coca Cola as many of their consumers emailed them to ask why, when they were an organic, fair-trade company, they would want to work with Coca Cola. But, personally answering the emails and staying close to their consumers allowed them to enter into a dialogue with them allowing them to better understand how they were feeling, how they could best answer their questions and assuage their concerns.

However, that level of commitment and leadership behaviour is not common in many larger organisations. Too often, as firms grow in size, senior management can get further and further away from customers, their insight and their feedback.

Seth and Barry believe it is a mistake to delegate the responsibility of connecting with your end consumers to someone else. They don’t believe this is the way that you build a brand that is aligned with and loved by your consumers.

How far removed are you from your customers? Too far?

 

 

Thanks to Terrance Heath for the image.

This post originally appeared on my Forbes.com column.

Comments

  1. Hello Adrian,
    I find myself in total agreement with you. It occurs to me that one valid component of the ‘customer focused’ test is whether the members of the Csuite do as Seth and Barry do.

    Hope your holiday left you refreshed.

    Maz

    • Hi Maz,
      Thanks for your comment. Their actions, in my mind, shows real leadership and that staying in touch and connected is important. Leading from the front as it were.

      Adrian

      Ps. The holiday was great.

  2. Adrian,

    In my experience most senior executives have a small army of people around them (called the executive response committee or similar) so that they don’t make a mistake when replying to their customers.

    Maybe it depends on how many complaints you get?

    Or maybe they are missing the point.

    James

    • James,
      Michael O’Leary’s team seemed to have failed him then given his recent ‘gaffs’ on Twitter. But then again I wonder if that is not another crafty way to get more free PR.

      Adrian

  3. Adrian,

    I could not agree with their approach more. I recently read a post by Jim Tincher in which he noted that some executives he had spoken to about talking to customers, as Seth and Barry do, said they didn’t have time to do that. That stuck with me. It’s a lame excuse. And it shows how some executives are detached from their businesses. Time to change that mindset.

    Annette :-)

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