After 50 years working with a range of companies — as well as founding and running my own company, J.D. Power and Associates — I have learned a lot about what it takes to succeed in business.
The businesses I’ve seen grow, adapt and thrive are the ones that keep a focus on satisfying customers. They listen to customers, anticipate their needs and desires, and maintain these traits as core principles for how the business should operate.
Whether I’m speaking with business school students or seasoned executives, I focus on five basic lessons that have been helpful to me and to others I have observed throughout my business career.
Take the time to listen
I have witnessed too many companies move further away from achieving satisfied customers by refusing to listen to them.
Back in the 1980s, Peugeot was trying to expand its share of the American car market but was unwilling to listen to customer complaints about difficulties starting the company’s advanced fuel-injected cars. Customers saw this as a quality issue, but Peugeot held fast, confident that fuel injection was superior from an engineering standpoint.
No doubt Peugeot was right, but by not listening and adapting to customers, those customers were lost. By the early 1990s, Peugeot had abandoned the American market.
Remember who the client is
In a B2B world, it is the organization or business you serve, not just the man or woman sitting across from you. This is important from two perspectives. It is critical that you not serve the desires of the representative assigned to work with you to the disservice of the organization.
On the flip side, you must feel empowered to not let that person become an obstacle to the organization receiving the information necessary to take full advantage of your services.
Relationships are what life and business are all about. They need to be built on a foundation of respect and trust, not just friendship. I never approached business relationships as requiring glad-handing or wining and dining. In the beginning, I simply couldn’t afford it.
As J.D. Power’s success widened, I found that true relationships with executives came from providing them with the clear, actionable information they needed to do their jobs, not time on the golf course.
Be willing to alter your point of view
Don’t be afraid to take a counterintuitive position in order to generate better ideas. The Jesuit education I received at the College of the Holy Cross provided a basis in questioning the status quo, a trait that has served me well.
Don’t “torture the data till it confesses”
Don’t be blind to all but the good news you may want to hear. Consciously or subconsciously interpreting information that comes across your desk in a way that supports past decisions, rather than illuminates needed improvement, is shortsighted. It won’t bring you closer to the satisfied customers who will ultimately dictate your success.
Dave Power is the founder of J.D. Power and Associates, a global market research company based in Westlake Village, Calif. The book about his 50 years in the auto industry, “Power: How J.D. Power III Became the Auto Industry’s Adviser, Confessor, and Eyewitness to History” is now available. For more information, visit