And if there is only one take-away from this post – and the conference – let it be this: that it is, indeed, all about the customer. Even those things that are, seemingly, not about the customer, like internal operations, employee training, investor communication, etc. A business needs a viable market opportunity to be successful, and that is always about the customer.

Below are some supporting points from various presentations and keynotes throughout my three days at the JMI Small Business Leadership Conference.

Live by the platinum rule

This was repeated more than once, both sales trainer Donald Kelly and Communications Coach LaRita Jarvis made a point of highlighting the platinum rule.

The golden rule is: “treat others the way you want to be treated”.

The platinum rule offers an improvement: “treat others they way they want to be treated“.

An excellent example of this is Dale Carnegie’s explanation of how to fish effectively:

Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish and said: “Wouldn’t you like to have that?”

Good deeds pay back

John Rivers, founder of 4 Rivers Smoke House, told us the story of his restaurant’s founding and launch. He gave much credit to the passion he and his employees have for what they do. What I learned was the importance of the effect of that passion.

It’s not about what we do, it’s about why we do it“, and that why has driven the business to do many good deeds. In fact before he started the restaurant, Rivers became known for the charitable fund raising he did through barbecuing, raising money to support local people and causes. This work paid itself forward when he started his restaurant, attracting the right investment, mentoring and talent through his reputation.

Passion is a key element of that work, but it is what that passion drives people to do outside of their work, that comes back to reward them eventually.

Innovation is about problems

“The problems stay the same, the customer changes”. Bob Roitblat stressed the importance of a business looking outwards when managing innovation. The customers will reveal the problems they want solved, even if they can not do so explicitly.

Innovation that works is not about the inputs, or “how” you do something, but rather the outputs: “why” you do something. Knowing what problem you are solving and why, will then dictate the how. The innovation can lie anywhere on that spectrum.

Organizational delivery over organizational structure

Stressing the point that even internal operations are about the customer, Heidi Araya of Coaching Agile Journeys told us about employee management and hierarchical org charts.

Management structure is important of the hierarchy of individuals and titles is the most important part of your business. I would venture to say that this is not, however, the most important part of your business.

Service delivery, is what is important in your business.

And org charts should reflect that: the purpose of an organizational chart and structure is to tell people how to interact, to whom to report and how communication flows. That all must be built in service to the clients in order to be effective. Remember: it is about treating people how they want to be treated, employees and customers alike. You will find that your employees are more dedicate to the mission when they know their role and the impact they can have.

Lessons from Disney

What Orlando conference would be complete without a few lessons from Disney?

MK Haley, the Research Producer of Disney Imagineering told us about how Disney operates in the “Experience Economy”.

She pointed out that people come to Disney to meet a character, but they return because of the interactions they have with that character at a Disney site.

This is applicable to all of our businesses: make the interactions valuable, fun and easy, and customers will come back for more. This is what we call a “win/win”.

It’s All About the Customer

Customer-centricity is not a soundbite, or a slogan. It is the demonstrable evolution of business development. To practice it you must know your business and your customer, and create the solution your customer needs based on the wishes your customer expresses.

Stay focused outwards, care more, listen more and deliver more.

And thank you again to the Jim Moran Institute.