Eight collegues huddle around a low circular table looking over a binder of notes

Knowing and understanding customer needs

See your business through your customers’ eyes

Professor Stelios Kavadias, Director at the Cambridge Judge Business School, explains how to look at your business like your customers do.

During your business’ growth phase, your strategy can get left behind as you try to keep up with the day-to-day hustle and bustle. Take the time to re-evaluate and assess your growing customer base. This could shine a light on a new opportunity or something worse – a missed opportunity.

“In order to realise any potential for growth, it’s imperative to understand your business’ strategic ambition and how your customer needs fit into this. If they don’t, you may have misunderstood your strategy,”* says Stelios, “and correcting this may help to enable growth.”

“Often businesses have a particular view of their key attributes – what they offer, how they rate against their competitors and how they want to be perceived,” Stelios says. “But when they validate those perspectives with actual customers, it’s surprising how often they are misaligned.”

This misalignment isn’t a bad thing, though – once you identify it, you can turn it into an opportunity, and the gaps can be cultivated into growth. Meeting your customers’ needs underpins all great strategies and taking the time to realign your strategy can pay dividends. This isn’t easy, but the time you spend today will stop you missing any opportunities down the line.

“Recently, I spoke with an auto-parts supplier, which considered the goods it sold to be mere commodities and priced them accordingly,” recalls Stelios. “But once they spoke to their customers, they found out that in certain markets, the parts were viewed as premium products. This let them raise the price significantly, with consumers happy to pay more.”

If you evaluate your customer base often, your business will always have an advantage in knowing how to position your products. Selecting the right strategy for growth is an important first step. But remember – each strategy is only as effective as the person executing it.

Having the right people in the right positions, to drive the business forward, is essential. As a high growth business this can present its own challenges, especially if your employees are multitasking across numerous roles.

A company in the legal-services sector also saw the benefits of looking through a customer's eyes. 

“When we pushed them to think about their strategy through the eyes of the customer, they assumed that, on a scale of 1 to 5, they would be 5 and the competition would be 4. Following market research they were pleasantly surprised to see customers rated them as a 5 and their competition as a 1.” Armed with this insight, they repositioned their offering and opened up their business to a whole new range of customers, which meant realigning budget and resource to capitalise on the opportunity identified.

Understanding your market is critical for all businesses to build efficiencies internally but also to directly engage your audience; where they shop, what they like, what they don’t like and importantly, how they view your business, product or service.

In a fast-moving, highly competitive market it’s never been more important to stay ahead of your competition.

As part of Barclays’ commitment to supporting businesses beyond their day-to-day banking needs, we’ve joined forces with Cambridge Judge Business School to launch the Barclays Scale Up UK Programme.

As part of this, Stelios leads a workshop on strategy, where he can help you to hone your customer insight and reinvigorate your corporate strategy.

Find out more about the programme and its modules.

*Quotations have been edited for length and clarity.


  • Evaluate your business’ current strategic position
  • Look at your strategy through your customers’ eyes
  • Address gaps between yours and your customers’ impressions
  • Identify growth opportunities from any discrepancies you find
  • Group discussions


  • A framework for describing your strategy
  • A framework for seeing your strategy from your customers’ point of view