Understanding Your Target Market…In War

I saw a fantastic piece about General Stanley McChrystal on 60 Minutes this past weekend.  McChrystal is the new commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.  He’s absolutely brilliant.  He is completely changing the approach to winning the war.  He understands that the goal isn’t to beat the Taliban, it’s to free the Afghani people.  Understanding that simple thing changes the fundamental approach to fighting and winning the war.  Instead of being bullies, he has his troops visit towns and become friendly with the people.  He himself visits towns without any armor whatsoever and asks the locals simply “how can we better serve you?”.

Regardless of your thoughts on the war, I think you’ll admire his ability to focus on the customer.  He doesn’t hide behind his position – he gets his hands dirty and gets right out in the field and interacts with his customers, the Afghani people.

A lot of CEOs and business owners could learn from General McChrystal.  He risks his life to talk to these people.  It amazes me how many important people in business hide from their customers.  They don’t want to hear what is really important to them.  They don’t want to hear the problems that they have.  Problems = opportunities, so long as you make the effort to identify and quantify them.

If you’re not routinely asking your customers how you can better serve them, you’re doing both parties a disservice. No number on a spreadsheet can replace actually speaking one on one with a customer.

If you’re interested, I embedded the entire episode below.  This story is the first one in the show (I couldn’t find just the story itself to embed).

3 comments on Understanding Your Target Market…In War

  1. Tim says:

    It is nice to see a CO perform like a NCO out in the field assessing the real data and not just looking at reports. The information one can get from being in the field is invaluable. I had a mentor who felt I was wasting my time doing things that I did, that I was not making the best use of my time. I wanted to have my hands in virtually everything, not because I didn’t trust my people but because I wanted to see all of the indescribable events, the subtle things that don’t make it into reports and remove errors from interpretation. Perhaps I should have just dropped in and not been around as much, but I also felt that my business was a living part of who I am and I simply wanted to spend time with it, something that those who don’t own a business will never understand, a lot of people who own business don’t get it either.

    I also find it interesting he is essentially applying “The Broken Window Theory” only Afghan style, the little things can yield huge results if you focus on the correct identifiers.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      I had to look up the broken window theory…learn something new every day 🙂

      To your point, I think every important person in every organization needs to make it a priority to spend time “in the field”, interacting with their customers. I remember reading about Robert Nardelli when he was CEO of Home Depot. He visited as many as 10 stores per day, often times posing as a mystery shopper so that he could see what it was like to be a customer. He had video monitoring set up so he could see any store at any time. He wanted to be right in the middle of everything.

      It’s easy when you’re our size and I have to pack boxes for the business to operate, but it becomes more challenging as you grow. You just HAVE to make it a priority. Engineers can’t develop, designers can’t create, and marketers can’t promote if they don’t have an intimate relationship with the customer.

  2. nethy says:

    Adam,
    If the main US manage to stabilise Afghanistan under a central government in this way, it will be an achievement. They would have to be retooled for that job.

    Incidentally, there is a US agency with a respectable track record in this department. Do you remember how many US “soldiers” were on the ground when Kabul fell? Even more impressive was the fact that it had been executed so fast. Usually, when a military needs speed, force is what they use but they didn’t.

    Historically, there haven’t been many comebacks of the kind that General McChrystal is aiming for, but I think he is placing his bets on the highest percentage shot. We haven’t seen it for a while, but this is what the US are good at. I think you might have already forgotten that about yourselves.

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