Peter Drucker first described the importance of helping customers be more successful in serving their customers as a strategic issue. As such, most students of business leadership and management have favored analyzing what you as a supplier can do to help customers succeed, adding new capabilities that fit those customer needs, and focusing on customers where you can add the most value. More recently, Michael Porter has developed quite a reputation for spelling out some of the sources of potential advantage to pass along to customers in serving their customers.
The principles behind this book have been employed for over a century by many consumer products companies (such as Procter & Gamble) who knew that retailers wouldn't succeed if consumers and users didn't gain demonstrable advantages from their offerings. Industrial products companies have often been slower to adopt that perspective. Why? Many times their customers felt like they knew more than any supplier and didn't want to be bothered to hear suggestions.
Ram Charan argues that customers are more open than ever to letting you propose and implement valuable improvements to their operations that accelerate sales, increase profit margins, reduce capital needs, and lock out their competitors. He offers no proof for that proposition other than a few case examples of companies that have implemented his approach. My own experience is that it is difficult to get customers to tell you enough about their needs to propose what they actually need. My clients tell the same story.
Curiously, he ignores the whole question of learning more about customers' needs to serve customers to set a corporate vision and strategy. Indeed, his approach seems to assume that you stick with the same customers. Now, in most industries there are more unserved potential customers than actual customers for a given company so I don't know why he assumed that.
In most companies that take such strategic stances, the data gathering and strategy setting occur at the senior level. Then, the sales process is adjusted to reflect the new realities.
Mr. Charan, by contrast, feels that the senior people can train the sales people to find out what customer needs are in serving their customers and to coordinate responses to meet those needs. My own sense is that it depends on the capacity of the salespeople and the relationships they have with their customers.
But if you are convinced that salespeople should drive your strategy, this book is a pretty good resource for spelling that out and telling you what to do. The book combines a fable with case histories and process suggestions.
The book is completely silent on the following subjects:
1. How to use the sales force to check out what can be done to make customers more successful by making their customers' customers more successful.
2. How to select the customers where you can have the greatest advantage over competitors in serving with this approach.
3. Using feedback from customers to direct development activities.
In a sense, it's as though Mr. Charan tried to write the equivalent of The Balanced Scorecard and The Strategy-Focused Organization . . . but by putting sales people at the center. I think the title was mainly chosen to follow along with his book about CEOs, rather than reflecting the topic suggested by the title.
Unless you are committed to this approach, you can skip this book.