It was a lovely summer vacation day and the dulcet sounds of one child yelling to another “You’re not the boss of me!” ring through the house.
As I try to breathe and stay out of the melee, the marketer in me holds out this phrase and examines it. “The boss of me…” Who’s the boss? In this house and of those children, it’s me, of course. I’m the boss; I’m one of those kinds of moms. In the marketplace, however, it’s sometimes less clear.
Who’s the boss? There’s a couple possible answers to this question. One is leadership. I’ve been around the consulting block enough to see different leadership styles. There was that one president who liked his people to jump a little when he walked in the room. Then there was another who made a beeline for his Marketing Director after a board meeting so he could crow, “I win.” But most of the other leaders I’ve seen are more participatory, working to develop a team in which each person can contribute.
Another possible answer to “who’s the boss” is the customer. That answer seems obvious—sort of like reliably saying “Jesus!” when asked a question in Sunday school. Customers and the market need to be taken very seriously; you can’t sell it if they hate it. When I can (i.e., when leadership agrees), I like to start a competitor analysis project not by finding out who the client considers a competitor—because the client is often a little too easy on themselves or too dated in their assessment. I like to ask customers who they see as the client’s peers in order to provide the best sense of where in the competitive set the client organization might live at the moment.
But who’s the boss? If an organization lets itself be entirely swayed by the passing whims and opinions of a (distracted) market, will it ever strike out and try something really visionary? Can the market be reasonably expected to guide leaders into new terrain? Do they always know what they want but can’t yet get? As much I love some great customer insight research (and I do), and as much as we like to celebrate an interesting leader, I’m increasingly convinced that the real boss lives somewhere in the complicated relationship between markets and the intrepid leaders who engage them.
What do you think? Is there a formula? A ratio of leader: market?