Strategic Thinking – What Does The Customer Want?

Of the three elements of strategic leadership, strategic thinking is probably the most nebulous to most of us. One of my colleagues shared a good article at on characteristics of tools that enable strategic thinking, and through further links, the tools themselves.

This all boils down to one thing: the key to strategic thinking is to get yourself out of thinking about what you currently do, and get yourself into thinking about the bigger need. You can always come back and compare the bigger need against what you currently do later in the process.

I spent 15 years in Product Management (and related positions) where there was a need to think about strategy and which new products should / should not be developed. I worked with people with MBAs and PhDs in Marketing (neither of which I have), but I concluded that everything in strategic marketing boiled down to being able to answer the following three questions:

  1. What does the customer want?
  2. What does the customer want?
  3. What does the customer want?

WARNING: Never, ever, ever confuse what the customer says that they want with what they actually want. Steve Jobs proved this point when he repeatedly refused to accept customer feedback on his products (what the customer says that they want), but still delivered incredible ideas that hit at what the customer really wanted.

The upshot of this is that there can never be too much time in strategic leadership devoted to understanding the people you are trying to serve. My experience is that this can be achieved through a combination of both secondary research and primary research with the people being served.

The principle here for strategic thinking is to get your mind away from what you do, and focus on the core need of the people you want to serve. This principle applies everywhere, from technology products to services provided in Christian ministry.

So, when it comes to strategic thinking a question for you to ask yourself is: How far am I from the people I am trying to serve, and how well do I know what they really want? The biggest influence on good strategic thinking is to spend time with your customer. When you understand their real need then you can start to figure out how the capabilities that you have can best be used to meet that need.

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