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Leadership Lessons: Become a Customer-Driven Leader

Leslie Stretch, president and CEO of CallidusCloud

There's no one "right" way to lead a business. Today's leaders have a lot of wisdom to impart about managing the modern workforce, because each one approaches leadership in his or her own unique way. Every week, Business News Daily will share a leadership lesson from a successful business owner or executive.

  • The leader: Leslie Stretch, president and CEO of CallidusCloud
  • Time in current position: 9 years
  • Leslie's philosophy: "Replace ego-driven leadership with customer-driven leadership."

The balance of power between customer and seller has shifted. Today's customers demand that we don't simply make guesses about their needs and desires – we must operate as genuinely customer-driven organizations. And if your company is going to do that, you must replace ego-driven leadership with customer-driven leadership.

What does that mean? Business leaders must stop taking actions based primarily on what they feel – their hunches, intuition and best guesses about the right moves for their organizations – and instead act collaboratively with the people they sell to – and the data generated during the sales process – in order to guarantee the best outcomes for those customers.

Businesses have surveyed their customers for a very long time, but much of that feedback often went unused or was ignored. That can't continue – buyers now expect that any feedback they offer will be considered and acted upon to better their experiences as customers. Today's analytics technology allows customer feedback to be collected, recorded and analyzed automatically; executives can understand what customers are thinking and act upon real data, rather than acting on hunches. 

They can also insist that the voice of the customer (VOC) is better integrated into every aspect of the organization. For instance, the customer's input about the quality of a sales interaction should have an impact on compensation, since a good sales experience sets the stage for greater loyalty and a longer and more profitable customer lifecycle. 

While the technology to add a data-driven dimension to customer-driven leadership is continuing to gain power, it's only one part of the equation. The other part is the willingness to listen directly to customers. You must do this in two ways. First, you have to actively facilitate discussion with customers you identify strategically, based on demographic, vertical market and business case data. We do that through a number of customer events around the world and through our customer advisory boards (CABs). Secondly, you need to keep channels open to hear from customer who may not be part of that first group and who may express their opinions via your community, on another social media channel, during conversations with each other in public forums, or in conversations with your support team.

Of course, all this listening is a moot point if you don't have a process to internalize what customers are saying and use it to influence the direction of your company, its products and its policies. Each part of the company – sales, marketing, customer service and even product development and finance – should have a set of clear-cut procedures for collecting and acting on the desires customers express. This action must come from the top down; the data you collect and the customer channels you open must reach the top of the organization. If that customer focus is broken on the way to the CEO, you force employees to reconcile the ego-driven perceptions of executives with the real-world concerns of the customer, a task that is nearly impossible.

This customer-driven approach in no way means that you give up control of your roadmap to customers. Rather, it challenges the chief executive to balance the business's interests with an informed understanding of the customers' interests in order to be better aligned with their needs, desires and wishes. By doing that, your business can position itself as a better partner for your customers' success, foster loyalty, win market share and drive more revenue over the long term.

Edited for length and clarity by Nicole Taylor.