Customers define what success looks like

I walked into a local business the other day and immediately recognized that it was a successful enterprise. I'll bet most customers would easily see the same. That got me to wondering what were the clues: Were they obvious? How do we know these things? Here's some ideas that seem to make sense across a wide spectrum of businesses.

This particular business did retail sales, and needed to have a large market of satisfied customers who would repeatedly shop often. It had found a way to separate itself from the orthodox model. It was unique; its product line was not available anywhere else nearby. The quality of the products and service were relatively rare. These two factors alone help separate it from the norm. However I believe what most contributed to its success is that its customers were treated to an experience which felt so good that they wanted to come back and they wanted to share it with other people. That meant that this business was ahead of the competition because it wasn't easily duplicated.

The question for each business person should be, "How do I know what is most important to my customers?" You find this by soliciting answers, from your staff, from your customers and from yourself. Have you walked into your business with the fresh eyes of a new customer? Are the people who work for you aware of what the customers want most? Where in your organization do the words "What's important to the customers?" get said? If you think you know and you have checked it out with customers then the next step is building that knowledge into each staff member. Your marketing team is not the only folks doing marketing. Every interaction with the market is part of the scheme. So start with new employee orientation. Let new employees knows what's important to the customers. Next make that message part of the training process, make it part of internal communications and include it in performance reviews. Employees will focus on what is important to the boss. If it is your intention to do what is most important to your customers and you keep your focus on that intention, not only your decisions but the decisions of the people who work for you will follow.

It's interesting how we all make snap decisions; we know very quickly if we like something or not. And I think we know right away if a business is being real and truly giving us what is most important to us. And just as quickly we know if what the boss wants most is the money out of our pockets without giving back any real value. Successful businesses are the ones which know what customers want and consistently provide it.

Peter Jermyn is a longtime believer in the power of small business to make a difference in the world. You can contact him at