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Articles
Leadership Tip: Modern Leaders are Listeners

“Some of the strongest brands in the world started by making something that people loved. They delighted a very small group of people, and worked on superserving them.”
- Lucas Watson, Vice President of Global Video Sales, Google

 

Ning Li and Julien Callede established Made.Com after studying the cost of retail space and warehousing built into the price of every sofa or ottoman sold the old-fashioned way. Even giant companies like IKEA, which revolutionized the business with build-it-yourself kits, spend enormous amounts of money constructing, maintaining, and running facilities that are mainly way stations between the manufacturer and your living room. The real value in the product rests in great design and solid construction, Ning and Julien reasoned. Why not find a way to deliver that value without all the markups required to pay for all that storage?

Breaking the business down to its essence, Julien and Ning looked for ways to connect consumers who needed furnishings to the source. They settled on a system that allows people to ‘‘vote’’ with orders for a small number of designs that are offered on’s website every Thursday. When the number of orders reaches a point where an item can be manufactured efficiently and shipped at a reasonable cost, the design ‘‘wins,’’ and a factory swings into production.  ‘‘We take the relationship with customers seriously, ask them what they want, and respond in real time’’ says Julien.

At the office in Notting Hill Gate, a few dozen people can manage thousands of relationships that produce millions of dollars’ worth of sales each quarter. Remarkably, none of the workers are employed as salespeople. Instead they work as listeners who try to tune in to the desires of their community of customers. ‘‘How do you sell?’’ asked Julien, rhetorically. ‘‘You sell by listening to people. If you listen, they will tell you exactly what they want. If you listen, you can change the system and do it better.’’

Modern leaders understand the world is changing, and their brands need to engage consumers in new ways using the new tools of modern marketing. Modern marketing, or engagement, means using digital tools to establish genuine human connections between people and products, as well as people and other people. Made.Com is a perfect example of a brand that creates engagement by literally only making products people love.

Just like their brands, modern leaders are changing themselves. While doing the research for my book, The Athena Doctrine, I travelled to thirteen different countries and interviewed hundreds of political leaders and small business owners. Around the world, one thing was consistent: people that had established successful businesses of tomorrow are using empathy, flexibility, selflessness, and collaboration. Most importantly they listen to the needs of their customers and employees.

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