BCG Henderson Institute

The more you engage with customers, the clearer things become and the easier it is to determine what you should be doing.

— John Russell, former managing director, Harley-Davidson Europe

This article is the first in a series exploring the effective development of customer insights in large corporations.

Eyes wide shut? Most business leaders stress the importance of understanding customers to stay relevant in today’s fast-changing competitive environment. Why, then, do many companies focus inward and, as a result, overlook or underestimate change signals?

In previous research, we showed that the pace of change in business has increased[1]” BCG Classics Revisited: The Growth Share Matrix“, BCG Perspectives, June 2014.: companies move through their life cycles twice as quickly as they did 30 years ago. Those that do not stay in sync with change risk falling behind the competition, sometimes for good. It’s no surprise, then, that one in three public companies will not survive the next five years.[2]“ Die Another Day: What Leaders Can Do About the Shrinking Life Expectancy of Corporations,” BCG Perspectives, July 2015.

To survive and flourish, it follows that companies must continually match strategy and implementation3 to their competitive environments. A minimum condition to adapt to external change is that we detect and understand it. Customers provide an essential window into change not  only in their perceptions, needs, preferences, behaviors, and emotions but also in the technology, competition, and other factors shaping these.

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