Knowledge Bank Blog, Channel Execution

What we learnt from Justin King

Getting to a simple, clear Customer Manifesto.

Last week Justin King left Sainsbury’s after an appreciative send off at his final AGM.  Jeremy worked as Justin’s PA early in his time in charge at Sainsbury’s, so we thought we’d talk about what we learnt from him and what other companies can learn from his approach.

One of the points made by Sainsbury’s chairman David Tyler in thanking Justin at the AGM was his ability to keep the organisation absolutely focussed on its customers.  Shortly after his arrival, with the company suffering from poor sales and a loss of focus, he and his leadership team established the Goal.  This was a simple, summary of what Sainsbury’s was going to do for its customers.

Importantly, it didn’t read like a Marketing document – no brand equity or affinity statements.  It didn’t ready like a Finance document – no talk of bases points and shareholder value.  It used everyday language about customers that everyone, inside and outside the company, could understand.

What Justin did unusually well was to live and lead by it.  Every time he talked, he would frame what he had to say, or ask, within this Goal.  For example, ‘one aspect of our Goal is Fair Prices.  Today we are talking about pricing on Fruit.  Are we giving our Customers Fair Prices?’  Simple as it may sound, this systematic repetition of the Goal and organisation of activities and decision making within its framework, was very powerful and hugely influential in the company’s turnaround.

We find that a lot of companies struggle to get this type of simplicity and clarity.  We think there are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, it feels too simple.  We want to do lots of things to serve our customers or consumers, so we talk about doing lots of things.  Whilst the intention is right, it actually gets in the way of being really clear about the most important things to focus on.

Secondly, it’s hard.  Mark Twain said ‘I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead’.  Getting to the right level of simplicity and clarity takes time and effort.  However, we think it’s worth it.

So, how to get there, how do you develop something we call a ‘Customer Manifesto’…?

Distil.  Identify what is really important to winning with Customers and don’t be afraid of prioritising what is important over what is new.  ‘Fair Prices’ is not revolutionary, but it is incredibly important.

Craft.  Spend time getting the language right.  Would someone hearing it for the first time immediately get it?  Do people on the shop floor understand ‘Fair Prices’? Definitely.

Repeat.  Communicate consistently and be comfortable repeating.  If ‘Fair Prices’ is really important why wouldn’t you keep talking about it?

So ask yourself, have you got a simple, clear Manifesto that directs how you are going to win with customers or consumers? That uses everyday language?  And is communicated consistently? So that everyone who needs to, knows and understands it.

Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.