In my last article, I told a story about how I came to realize how change was important and how damaging it can be when we keep trying the same thing and getting the same result. In this article, I would like to explore and see how easily you can raise your game to your customers.
When I worked for Coca-Cola on the McDonald’s business, Germany was my most important market. Our business had been growing, but we felt there was room for improvement. Consumers were demanding more healthy beverages as well as different flavors and we were still basically selling Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, and Fanta, or orange, lime, and cola! As McDonalds attempted to ramp up more choice on the menu, beverages were still the same. Fairly boring for consumers and we were not keeping pace with consumers taste and expectations.
Furthermore, soda beverages that were linked to Happy Meals™ were coming under attack as being “unhealthy” for kids.
To complicate matters, moving to packages such as bottles or cans was not an option for margin and operating reasons, so a solution had to be found in the dispensed drinks area.
This situation had to change, otherwise we were going to put our strategic partnership and relationships under pressure. There were already rumblings that we had not stepped up, were not interested in innovation or bringing solutions. Our management was torn between, not rocking the boat and risking what we had versus coming with new ideas which may negatively change our business model.
My team concluded we had to step up. And the primary reason was a relationship reason rather than a sales opportunity. If we didn’t step up and demonstrate our willingness to bring value and innovation to the McDonald’s business, they could look elsewhere and our strategic partnership would become threatened.
We spent weeks looking at how could we add interest and choice to the current situation. What equipment was available and how could we change the offerings. What would appeal to consumers but would also fit into McDonald’s stringent operating procedures?
We came up with a great fit and without going into detail, it was a machine that was available and would allow the dispensing of 11 different beverages, but also flavor shots which would provide even more choice of flavors, and provide a total of about 32 options.
This was a big deal. This really was thinking out of the box. We had worked fast and furiously to package and resolve the marketing, the costs, and operational issues so as to make the project affordable and viable. This was a huge change.
But, remember, the objective was not necessarily to increase sales for us. It was to step up and demonstrate that we valued the business so much we would invest time and energy in providing innovative solutions for our customer and their consumers. It was really a relationship objective. How could we add value to our strategic partnership by change? How could we raise our game to our customer?
We duly presented the concept, and there was a lot of interest in the project, but for a variety of reasons it did not move ahead with McDonald’s. Timing is everything. It may, in fact, have been the forerunner of a machine launched in 2009 that now does similar things called Freestyle. This is a machine that features more than 125 different Coca-Cola drink products and custom flavors.
We were disappointed. A lot of work had gone into this project. We were the first team globally to present such a concept to McDonald’s and we were excited about being innovators, pioneers, and leaders.
But we lost sight of what out real objective was and we were reminded of it by our customer. Out of the doom and gloom that overshadowed our Vienna office, we started to get comments from McDonald’s either verbally or in e-mails, such as:
“You guys really stepped up when it mattered.”
“This could be a game changer.”
“What a great change in thinking and approach.”
“Hey, that was a great concept, shame it didn’t get tested.”
“Did you hear how excited our team was about your ideas and thinking?”
“You really understand the value of looking after the customers interest.”
That was the real value in us making a change. There were two things that changed for us.
The first was the way the customer looked at and valued us. We got closer again in discussing ways to innovate and change. Instead of our strategic partnership being threatened it was strengthened.
The second, which was a by-product, was the way we looked at the customers business. It made us look at the business differently and we started to look more at the business with two lenses linked, the customer and the consumer value together rather than looking at the business through each lens individually.
Change can be tough, challenging and sometimes contentious. But it can lead us to new ways of thinking, bigger opportunities, and building better and stronger relationships!
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