Stay terrified of your customers

Bezos masterclass in management through shareholder letters 1998 #2/22

2. be afraid of your customers

 

Jeff Bezos has been writing a letter to shareholders since 1997 and looking at all if them gives an insight to the organisation and a masterclass in leadership. This is a series that gives you a snap shot / key takes outs of each letter.

“I constantly remind our employees to be afraid, to wake up every morning terrified. Not of our competition, but of our customers. Our customers have made our business what it is, they are the ones with whom we have a relationship, and they are the ones to whom we owe a great obligation. And we consider them to be loyal to us — right up until the second that someone else offers them a better service.”

Takeaway

  • In business, the most important thing isn’t what your competition is doing. If you’re expending effort trying to follow your rivals’ every move, you’re losing the big picture.
  • Keeping pace with your customers is what will keep you informed, relevant, and competitive.

Challenge

  • Companies are usually wary of their competition.
  • Understanding where they stack up against rivals, particularly if they’re public and continually judged on relative value multiples like price to earnings (PE), is a key pillar of their business strategy. If they can come in top of class, it’s easier to attract investment.
  • But the issue with thinking like your rivals is that you start to make similar moves. In fast food, for example, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A all start to blend together. The only ways to differentiate is to narrow down to price and brand. As competition heats up in these crowded areas, it’s increasingly difficult to gain an advantage.

Solution

  • Flip the focus inward and hone in on your customers. Obsess over their preferences, their shopping behaviors, the quality of their reviews. This will allow you to optimize product features and overall product mixes. You’ll be able to double down on what works and eliminate what doesn’t. If you have a self-service platform like Kindle, find out everything users are creating and where they’re hitting roadblocks.
  • This granular focus on your true partners will allow you to invent in ways you (and your peers) didn’t anticipate. You’ll begin to develop away from your rivals and stand apart from the pack. This is a core tenet of Bezos’ philosophy.
  • If you don’t do everything in your power to align with customers’ shifting needs, and instead allow yourself to be distracted by competitors, you’ll quickly lose them.

Link to all letters to shareholders

  • 1997: Bring on shareholders who align with your values

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1997

  • 1998: Stay terrified of your customers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1998

  • 1999: Build on top of infrastructure that’s improving on its own

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 1999

  • 2000: In lean times, build a cash moat

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2000

  • 2001: Measure your company by your free cash flow

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2001

  • 2002: Build your business on your fixed costs

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2002

  • 2003: Long-term thinking is rooted in ownership

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2003

  • 2004: Free cash flow enables more innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2004

  • 2005: Don’t get fixated on short-term numbers

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2005

  • 2006: Nurture your seedlings to build big lines of business

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2006

  • 2007: Missionaries build better products

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2007

  • 2008: Work backwards from customer needs to know what to build next

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2008

  • 2009: Focus on inputs — the outputs will take care of themselves

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2009

  • 2010: R&D should pervade every department

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2010

  • 2011: Self-service platforms unlock innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2011

  • 2012: Surprise and delight your customers to build long-term trust

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2012

  • 2013: Decentralize decision-making to generate innovation

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2013

  • 2014: Bet on ideas that have unlimited upside

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2014

  • 2015: Don’t deliberate over easily reversible decisions

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2015

  • 2016: Move fast and focus on outcomes

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2016

  • 2017: Build high standards into company culture

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2017

  • 2018: Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency

Jeff Bezos Letter to Shareholders 2018

Author: Andrew Mann

Managing Partner at NorthBailey. Having had senior marketing & insight roles at Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, Coop and M&S, I'm now using my experience & network to solve strategic marketing problems for NorthBailey clients

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