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Involve Customers First to Avoid Disasters

Even great companies make mistakes, and Michael Dell admits that his company is no exception. In 1989, Dell introduced a new family of products, code-named Olympic. Olympic was a line of desktop and workstation computers that were able to perform a wide array of tasks. The product introduction—Dell's biggest ever—turned out to be the company's biggest-ever flop. While the products were impressive from a technology standpoint, customers just didn't need such complex products with that much technological firepower. The failure of Olympic delivered a powerful lesson to the relatively young company, and it was one that Michael Dell would not soon forget:

We had gone ahead and created a product that was, for all intents and purposes, technology for technology's sake, rather than technology for the customer's sake. If we had consulted our customers first about what they needed ... we could have saved ourselves a lot of aggravation.

Michael Dell urges all companies to involve their customers earlier in the process. He feels that failed products are often the result of companies' launching new products without sufficient knowledge of their customers. He believes that it is incumbent upon organizations to provide useful information up and down the supply chain. He warns that companies that ignore this advice do so at their own peril:

If your business isn't enabled by customers and suppliers having more information and being able to use it, you're probably already in trouble. The Internet is like a weapon sitting on a table ready to be picked up by either you or your competitors.

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