Build a Corporate Wall, and People Won’t Find a Pathway to Your Door


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The late Charles Schultz, creator of Peanuts, warned us many years ago about an emerging technological danger. With characteristic brevity, he drew Charlie Brown’s sister Sally plopped into a beanbag chair opposite a nearby TV, as she shouts to her brother, “You should watch this. They’re showing pictures of huge snowflakes falling gently on this beautiful snow covered meadow . . .”

“You can see the same thing right now if you go outside. . .” he replies, blandly.

In the last panel, Sally shrieks incredulously, “OUTSIDE?!”

Imagine Sally today as VP of Marketing for a Fortune 500 company, and consider how her worldview might play out. With her company experiencing falling market share, high customer churn, and low marketing and sales productivity, a consultant from McKinsey recommends that she leave the confines of her corner office on the 10th floor to gain a different perspective.

She ambles far away so she can see her company the way her customers do. Turning in the direction of her office, she makes an astonishing discovery: there’s a huge wall surrounding headquarters. “OMG!” she gasps. “We’re not customer-centric!” As she peers in disbelief through a pair of binoculars, she has another revelation—the wall is growing out of control, threatening to suffocate her turnaround strategy. Panic ensues when she sees familiar objects embedded into the wall. “Oh, for the love of . . .” She drops the binoculars and whips an iPad from her briefcase, hurriedly documenting every identifiable item in the partition between her and her customers.

1. Terabytes of customer data, mislabeled as insight. Swirling digital exhaust, untapped by useful, meaningful questions from management.

2. Spreadsheet cells filled with aggregated numbers—providing airbrushed representations of customers. “Buyer personas? Who needs them? We manage by spreadsheet.”

3. Fuzzwords. Referring to people as market targets. Or using phrases like “Our typical customer wants . . . an ideal prospect has . . . . the average user for our system likes . . .” in internal meetings and emails.

4. Needlessly complex legalese on websites and customer documents.

5. Lead generation workflows, engineered without context, and lacking empathy for how people buy.

6. Tone deafness. “But we offer chat and email for inbound communication. That seems to work fine for us.”

7. Relentless profit pursuit. “Cut costs!” “Raise revenue!” –and no customer value in sight.

8. Self-satisfaction. Gratuitous internal product accolades. Lists of long-faded corporate accomplishments, bloated biographies of top executives complete with fancy job titles and academic credentials-but little else.

9. Channel insulation. “VAR’s, VAD’s, and ISV’s. They’re the primary points of contact for our customers.”

10. Product infatuation. “I can’t imagine anyone not wanting what we sell!”

11. Layers of organizational fat. Territories reporting to districts reporting to regions reporting to divisions.

“Build a corporate wall, and people won’t find a pathway to your door,” to borrow from a more familiar adage. The biggest danger of all is not recognizing when the wall is under construction, and that you’re the one building it.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. I remember consulting with a small, regional cable and ISP company in south-central Pennsylvania some years ago. Their transmission reliability and customer service were so bad, and so subject to angry consumer visits to their office, that they decided to move their company headquarters from the center of their coverage area’s biggest town to the top of a mountain (in Pennsylvania, that’s a hill over 3,000 feet above sea level). Between that and the auto respond service call line (so they rarely, if ever, directly communicated with anyone in their service region), they kept themselves at a safe distance from the wrath of customers.

  2. Thanks, Michael. Living in the Washington, DC metro area, I work with many companies that have found it advantageous to create physical fortresses. Some have lobby security that makes TSA seem perfunctory – though I realize that’s not saying much.

    What’s most insidious for connecting with customers are the virtual impediments that companies create. When added together, they can be quite daunting to prospective customers.

    Executives often assume simply having communication pathways makes the company accessible. In the simplest translation, yes. But that shouldn’t be interpreted as ‘welcoming’ or ‘open to conversation.’

  3. Great post, Andrew! Love the illustration, and the 11 points of division are spot-on. Companies have fallen in love with data and technology – and fallen out of love with their customers.
    Thanks! Kelly


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