The Outside-In Corporation: A book review by Bob Morris

The Outside-In Corporation: How to Build a Customer-centric Organization for Breakthrough Results
Barbara Bund
McGraw-Hill (2005)

Do not be misled by the reference to “corporation” in the title. What Barbara Bund provides in this book can be of substantial value to decision-makers in any organization (regardless of size or nature) which has an urgent need to achieve “breakthrough results” by gaining a much better understanding of — and then becoming much closer to — those of greatest importance to its success. Thus, healthcare providers would think in terms of becoming patient-centric, trade and professional associations (e.g. chambers of commerce) would think in terms of becoming member-centric, etc.

As she explains in the Preface, “The primary objective of this book is to help business managers use [her various] insights effectively in practice. It is to share the outside-in discipline — to provide a road map for managers to follow in creating and leading outside-in corporations, even in organizations where the unfortunate inside-out perspective has prevailed in the past.” (page xviii)

Bund carefully organizes her material within 13 chapters which begin with a probing analysis of “the bad habit of inside-out thinking” and conclude with a summation of “the bad news and the good news” followed by provision of four additional “outside-in tools” and then a recommended process to establish and then sustain an “outside-in discipline.” I especially appreciate the fact that Bund provides recommended “Outside-In Actions” at the end of each chapter. These sections reiterate key points, of course, but they can also serve as invaluable self-audits if completed with appropriate rigor and (yes) candor.

“The most important thing about this definition [of strategy based on a marketing mix of product, price, communication, and distribution] is that it requires that the strategic tools must be chosen to address the needs of one or more market segments. There must be a clear customer foundation, based on customer needs and behavior. In addition, the components of the strategy must fit with one another and work together; they must be consistent and coordinated.” In this volume, Bund cites a number of exemplary organizations (e.g. Costco, Dell, eBay, FedEx, and GE) that “have an explicit customer-based reason for everything [they] do in the marketplace.” Guided and informed by the outside-in discipline, they have better strategy design, better communication of strategy to others, and better ability to adapt when there are changes in the competitive marketplace. They have achieved breakthrough results because they understand, really understand why their customers are “the key.”

To repeat, I think this book can be of almost incalculable value to decision-makers in almost any organization (regardless of size or nature) if — huge “if” — they make and then sustain a total commitment to becoming and then remaining customer-centric. Of course that won’t be easy. Barriers must be overcome. One of the worst is what Jim O’Toole once characterized as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Hence the importance of Bund’s counsel. The game plan she recommends is cohesive, comprehensive, and cost-effective. Certain modifications of that plan will be necessary, of course, but the outside-in discipline must never be compromised. At least some organizations will achieve breakthrough results this year. Why not yours?

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