I’ve been talking for some time about businesses moving from a push model to a pull model but what exactly does that mean, how do you know it’s happening and what can you do to make the transition easier for all? To be clear, I’m talking here about a whole business approach and not only a marketing approach.
I’m going to explore these points in more detail.
What does ‘push’ business mean?
Our whole approach to business in the west has been based on a push approach. This is what all of us over the age of about 20 have been taught is the norm. A push approach forecasts need and then designs the best way to get people, goods or services available at the right time and place to meet that forecasted need.
You can see that push is not inherently customer-driven, it’s company forecast-driven. Many companies work hard to research what their customers need or even create false needs but the customer is still one step removed from the business. The business revolves around the forecast, not the customer. This is a crucial point to remember.
Competition is rife in a push economy as every company plans its customer need, forecasts demand and keeps this all within the individual company boundary. Life in push businesses is full of anxiety about meeting or exceeding forecasts and whipping the competition; it’s exhausting, stressful and still not focused on the actual customer.
How does a ‘pull’ business differ?
Pull works by customers finding your goods or services when their need arises. A pull approach by its very nature has customers at the heart of the business. Pull businesses need to be very focused as no one business is going to be attractive to all customers at the same time. This means focus is necessary through really understanding your company’s true capabilities and value and presenting this clearly and unequivocally while also having enough fluidity to bend to customer demand. This demands a flexible and creative organisation.
Pull is also about creating reciprocal value with all stakeholders and not just taking a bigger slice of the fictitious forecasted pie for yourself.
Google is perhaps the clearest example of a pull platform. I want to find something or buy something and I Google it. I have ‘pulled’ whatever it was I was looking for toward me.
There are many businesses that have significant elements of pull such as the SAP Developer Network or Unilever’s Open Innovation programme. These are successful because they blur the boundary of the company and create innovative collaboration between employees and just about anyone outside of the company.
Rather than the heavy competition that we see in the push world, the world of pull revolves around collaboration in the widest sense across and through the company’s boundaries. In fact the boundaries become semi-permeable membranes and the knowledge flows between companies happen like osmosis.
How do I manage my people through this transition?
Don’t be prescriptive by specifying exactly what people have to do to achieve a goal or get a job done. Rather focus on what you want to achieve and let them decide how best to get there. Specify the outputs and not the inputs.
In a conversation with a newly-appointed sales director of a medium-sized company last week, she told me that the MD personally specifies how many appointments each salesperson should be attending every week and insists that one day a week all the salespeople stay in the office and do all their prospecting calls. This is hugely demotivating for creative, passionate individuals, which she tells me most of the sales team are. She really wants to share the go-to-market strategy, point them in the right direction and let them get on with the best way of achieving their goals. She is ready to coach them and offer help when they ask for it. She doesn’t plan on staying with this company much longer as she is finding the MD’s command-and-control approach stifling.
How do I manage my business through this transition?
Become truly customer-focused. This means getting to the heart of what customers value about you, and getting to the heart of value means really understanding the rational and emotional, the explicit things customers say and the implicit things they really mean. It does not mean managing customers by only checkboxes and Net Promoter scores.
The starting point for this is qualitative customer research to dig underneath and uncover what they mean and then build this into a set of value solutions and a total value proposition. By designing and presenting your company, services and solutions to the world in a clear and compelling way you make it easy for customers to find you when their need arises.
Why are some businesses still entrenched in only push?
In a word, FEAR.
• Fear of change
• Fear of losing control
• Fear of vulnerability as the company’s boundaries are opened up and more fluid information-sharing takes place
• Fear of the competition
• Fear of loss
• Fear of the untried and unknown
All these fears can be summed up by a board director who recently said to me, “We’ve done well for the past 20 years so why would we change our approach now?” My response was a strong recommendation not to wait until sales slide even more and customers have moved somewhere else. It’s much braver and surprisingly easier to tackle problems when times are OK rather than waiting until things get worse and then moving into psychological and financial lock-down.
In summary, pull is about allowing customers to find goods where and when their need arises and not push products to an unrealistic and often fictitious demand forecast. Companies can do this by building genuine customer value and becoming truly customer-focused.
We’d love to know your own experiences of moving from push to pull. Do leave us a comment below and subscribe using the button in the footer for future insights.
Cindy Barnes is a business and psychology consultant. Her background is in product and service innovation, business development and leadership. She is founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Futurecurve who are value solution architects and builders. Futurecurve helps companies navigate from a product ‘push’ focus to a true customer ‘pull’ focus, enabling them to out-perform their peers by delivering genuine value to customers. Customers include global corporations, governmental organisations, start-ups and not-for-profits.
Her career has spanned engineering, heading R&D for part of Panavision, running automotive component factories for Smith Industries and leading marketing and business development for Capgemini. She has created, developed and sold many leading edge products and solutions.