Customer Needs Drive Disruption and Innovation

Customers at the Kid’s Center in Tucson, Arizona.

Conventional wisdom says that technology is propelling the disruption roiling the markets, but business expert Suman Sarkar says this belief is dead wrong. Sarkar contends that disruption is, in fact, driven by changing customer needs – and that only those businesses that truly understand their customers can succeed. In his new book, Customer-Driven Disruption:  Five Strategies to Stay Ahead of the Curve, Sarkar presents a roadmap for anticipating, innovating, and profiting from customers’ ever-shifting demands.

“If you’re not focused on your customers, they will leave as soon as they find a viable alternative, and their departure is only a matter of time,” warns Sarkar, who has advised leaders at dozens of Fortune 500 companies. He asserts that too many business owners concentrate on short-term performance, including mergers and acquisitions, incremental innovation, marketing, and global expansion, for example. Over the long term, these ill-fated approaches only widen the gulf between a company and its customers.

That’s because they’re built on an outdated understanding of the market, says Sarkar – a time when baby boomers were swayed by advertising, when developing nations wanted whatever was “American,” and when consumerism was the rule of the day.

In his book, Sarkar discusses the very different ways in which millennials and Generation Z approach the world and the marketplace – influenced by peer reviews, driven by the desire for personalized products and service, and unwilling to delay gratification.

Illustrated with examples from retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, and Sephora, as well as from his own clients in such industries as wireless, medical devices, banking, and retail, the author details five strategies that any company can adapt in their own push to connect with, and capitalize on, customer needs.

1. Win with current customers before chasing after new ones

New customers are expensive to acquire, and typically produce less revenue than would current, satisfied customers. Yet, when faced with declining revenues, most companies focus on finding new customers. Advising against loyalty and customer-retention programs, Sarkar explains how to encourage existing customers to buy more. It comes down to identifying customers by segments (not the way most companies currently do), determining what services are valued by each segment, creating a range of services based on these differing needs, and pricing the new service appropriately.

2. Personalization is not a luxury

Mass-produced products aren’t on anyone’s wish list anymore. Today, customers want personalized products and services at reasonable prices. To make personalization affordable, leaders must think differently about offerings, create flexible operations, and reduce waste.  “Whoever masters the art of providing affordable, personalized products will enjoy a significant competitive advantage in the future,” writes the author.

3. Customers won’t wait

Sarkar explains how firms in all industries can learn to quickly develop products or solutions that address customers’ changing needs, reduce sales promotion, and give customers what they really want to buy.

4. Good enough is no longer good enough

Now that the public judges products based on reviews and peer recommendations, quality is more critical than ever before. This means offering a level of performance customers can’t resist and the competition can’t beat. The author addresses how to achieve quality without prohibitive cost by thinking outside the box.

5. Disregard strategies 1 through 4

“What makes you great today won’t necessarily keep you great tomorrow, unless you and your strategies evolve with your customers. That applies even to these first four strategies,” writes the author. He explains how successful companies constantly reinvent and re-imagine themselves using 360 triangulation and partner workshops, to empower employee teams, and encourage attention to detail.


Suman Sarkar is also the author of Supply Chain Revolution. He is a partner with Three S Consulting in San Francisco, a firm he launched after serving as a management consultant at A.T. Kearney and working at Procter & Gamble.

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