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Customer in the Boardroom? – The comeback of a classic

A reiteration that in a world of instant gratification, the fundamental roots of business strategy are undeniably timeless.

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Before the narrative settles down to its central construct, it does offer a fascinating guided tour of the classic schools of strategy.

By Shivaji Dasgupta

In a world of T20-type business writing, Rama Bijapurkar’s Customer in the Boardroom? is indeed a heady dose of test match cricket. The focus is relentlessly on customer-centricity, which makes it both attractive and relevant for every kind of business.

It starts with a rather compelling provocation on whether strategy is indeed relevant in this Shinkansen pace of industries and categories. This matter is swiftly resolved with the plea to focus even more sharply on the demand side of business in the entire spectrum of strategic intercourse, from boardroom to retail floor. In due regard to the customer-centric evolution of businesses, what manufacturers do brilliantly is often less important than what buyers want dearly.

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At the very prologue, the four types of market strategies are suitably dissected —Star Track (pioneers and innovators), Carpet Bomb (scale obsessed), Sales Force (passionate about push) and Brand Shout (faithful to pull). Having worked as an outsider with multiple organisations, this unilateral thought process is a common practice and the aptitude to mix and match unusually rare in senior suites. That the first mover advantage is insufficient without a sustainable lock-in value is sharply established—the world of tech services is filled with savvy ’followers’ who made the biggest bucks, correcting the course.

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Before the narrative settles down to its central construct, it does offer a fascinating guided tour of the classic schools of strategy. Seminal thinking by Kenichi Ohmae and David Aaker is certainly not excluded as building blocks for a proprietary school of thought. The potential of the NPS (net promoter score) ideology is critically exposed, while the Hax Framework and the Mckinsey construct of Coyne and Subramaniam are referred to in due context—the latter especially for the dimensions of ‘adapting’ and ‘shaping’ in terms of strategic posture. Southwest Airlines (SWA) is a potent case of the latter—busting the hub-and-spoke model with point to point strategies targeting travellers who used trains or highways for short and mid-range commutes. Indigo has most surely ‘adapted’ the same in India, which does prove the virality of successful strategies.

The customer based business strategy (CBBS), developed by the author and colleagues, believes in a front end called business-market strategy, which is the ‘why, when, how’ of business direction. This is necessarily complemented by a robust back-end which has split into the functional marketing strategy (category and brand) and the operational marketing dimension (classic 4Ps). Most succinctly, she defines the front end as the playground definition, while the back end charts the realistic route map, but strategy at its core resides in the domain of ‘business-market’, while customer-centric execution becomes the priceless ally.

As the book progresses, the ‘where to’ and ‘how to’ areas are fleshed out masterfully with appropriate examples, albeit from an earlier era. The definition of sub-markets, or micro segmentation, is specially intriguing as modern-day D2C forays are clearly outcomes of this thinking, as are the obsessively diverse portfolios of majors. In ‘how to’, CVA (customer value advantage) or ‘why buy me’, is a timeless attitude, including the equilibrium between company level and brand level values.

The Art and Science of Strategic Business Market Segmentation, to me, is the defining innings of this enthralling test match, as it cleverly marries intellect with practicality— mental modelling of markets, freed from assembly-line approaches, connecting competitive advantage to segmentation approaches. Case studies are diverse and ample, providing valuable references across traditional sectors and they must be read with due sincerity.

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At a functional level, it is heartening to note that the value package and value delivery system articulated extensively are rapidly becoming scalable realities, nowadays referred to as experiential marketing. The Customer Insight section provides valuable tools for those seeking the correct question papers as the precursor to useful answers. In a deliberately probing manner, the book reverts routinely to its foundation of marrying depth with action and it ends as solidly as it commences.

For those missing the new-age digital economy success stories in what is clearly a classic analysis, here is a simple thought. The pace of the game has changed, the playing fields have dramatically altered and the data-technology alliance is unimaginably influential. However, the fundamental roots of business strategy are undeniably timeless as verified by numerous instances. Do consider CBBS to be a sharp refresher course in life-altering basics and then you can duly return to the daily treadmill.

Customer in the Boardroom? Crafting Customer-Based Business Strategy

Rama Bijapurkar

Penguin Random House

Pp 256, Rs 399

Shivaji Dasgupta is an independent brand consultant and writer

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First published on: 26-03-2023 at 00:45 IST