As managers revamp their organizations for closer alignment with customers, one of the biggest challenges is determining how far and fast to go.
Responding to competitive pressures, a growing number of corporate managers are dismantling organizations and cultures that were built on selling particular products and replacing them with new structures designed to be more responsive to customer needs. The push to restructure around customers is more than a new management fad. It is supported by success stories at companies including IBM, Cummins India, Fidelity Investments and Imation. Companies transitioning from product-oriented to customer-centered organizations progress along a continuum. They begin with informal coordination to overcome the deficiencies of product or functional silos, adding integrating functions (such as key account managers and customer segment task forces) as needed. The market logic for becoming customer-focused is often compelling. In surveying 347 companies, the author found that companies that embraced this approach saw accountability for customer relationships improve, and information about customers was more readily shared. These companies were also easier to do business with, according to customers. However, the author found that transforming product-centered cultures can be difficult and that the potential benefits do not necessarily translate into superior performance.