Tim Cook of Apple recently told BusinessWeek
“I’ve talked to many other CEOs who look at me like I have three heads when I talk about getting hundreds or thousands of customer e-mails in a day. It’s a privilege. It’s like you’re sitting at the kitchen table. You’re a part of the family. And we have to continue to honor that.”
And it made me wonder how many enterprise customers write or call Steve Ballmer at Microsoft, generous as he is with his email address at many events. Or does Microsoft primarily rely on its Dynamics resellers and Azure and .Net partners for customer feedback?
I wondered how Leo Apotheker could have missed European customer sentiment when he disastrously pushed ahead with maintenance hike increases when he was at SAP? Or even today, how does SAP filter out customer signals from the cackle of tens of thousands of its partners on SDN? Do user groups like ASUG give it unvarnished customer sentiment?
How often does Ginni Rometty ask for a one-on-one debrief with a customer where IBM loses a high profile opportunity? How many calls does Safra Catz take from Oracle customers who want a detailed conversation about economics?
In the enterprise world, with dedicated account managers and teams, you would think the customer has much more access to vendor executives. The reality I suspect is there are many walls to break through and vendor executives are insulated from their customers.
There are exceptions. I heard Vineet Nayyar, CEO of HCL say he meets 500 of his clients a year. Since he lives in India, and his business is mostly in the US and Europe, that must call for a brutal physical schedule.
Tim Cook has a brutal schedule in a different way. He gets up at 3.45 am every morning to read emails for an hour. I suspect he gets much more unadulterated input from his customers than do most enterprise software executives. And as he humbly says, “That’s a privilege”.