Start with your customer in mind whenever you use a management technique. Strategies that start with the customer set the stage for daily behaviors that are customer-centric.

The customer is left out of most templates you find in consultants’ toolboxes or business classes. This causes self-centered or competitor-centered, or Wall Street-centered thinking, rather than customer-centered thinking. If customers are paying your way, why would you dare center your thinking on anyone else?

SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) is an often misunderstood tool. The goal of SWOT is to align your strengths with market opportunities within the context of what matters to your target customers.

1) First, know your customers’ priorities and challenges and trends. If you don’t have a clear understanding of your customers’ perspectives, none of your management tools will be customer-focused! (This is mainly the step that is often overlooked.)

2) Assess your external environment for opportunities and threats as they relate to serving your target customers.

3) Is it possible to transform any threats to opportunities? (This is the art of “finding the silver lining in the clouds” or “turning lemons into lemonade”.)

4) Assess your internal weaknesses and strengths in the context of the external opportunities and threats, again, as they relate to serving your customers.

5) Is it possible to transform any weaknesses to strengths? (Don’t stop here … another key step is essential to achieve the goal of the SWOT tool.)

6) Analyze your strengths-to-be and opportunities-to-be. What else can be done to leverage internal strengths to accommodate external opportunities? (This is the second most overlooked step in getting full ROI out of the SWOT tool.)

It’s never okay to lose sight of your customers’ priorities in any step. It’s crazy that we’ve allowed ourselves to forget them in the first place. Think about any personal relationship you have … things always go much better when you remember the other party’s priorities as you make plans and put them into action!

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