Needs Assessment

It’s August and that means most companies are about to begin formulating their plans for the coming fiscal year, if they have not done so already. Corporate planning exercises can quickly become introverted experiences, meaning it is easy to focus only on the company when trying to move forward.

However, the key to winning long term is never losing sight of your customers and understanding why they use your business. This may seem like a pretty simple thought, but truly maintaining a customer focus and understanding the needs they hope to address by working with you and your company is pretty tricky.

“Growing diversity, changing needs, lifestyle shifts and evolving perspectives keep consumers a moving target,” said Technomic’s Sara Monnette during the annual Trends and Directions Conference, which took place earlier this summer in downtown Chicago.

These factors apply to more than the way foodservice operators serve consumers. They directly relate to how foodservice operators and members of the supply chain interact with one another. While it’s great to recall the days of yore and how businesses were established, one can’t lose sight of the fact that new foodservice professionals continue to enter the industry on a daily basis. In doing so they bring with them new sets of expectations as to how they would like the industry to work. While they may respect your past, newer generations of foodservice professionals won’t continue to work with you unless you and your companies continue to prove your worth. Sorry, but it’s that simple.

As part of her presentation, Monnette plotted out a roadmap to help companies travel a winning course during the next decade. She encouraged attendees to embrace the notion that consumers will remain a moving target, and understanding what they value and in what direction they are headed requires constant vigilance. “Even if you know your customer today, it does not mean you will know them in the future,” she added. Simply put: take nothing for granted.

Businesses also need to understand what they stand for and to know their customers, Monnette added. In doing so she encourages members of the foodservice industry to be deliberate and honest and resist the temptation to be everything to everyone. “Don’t chase trends if it isn’t what your customer cares about,” she added.

Finally, Monnette encourages members of the foodservice industry to recognize opportunities to reach a broader customer base by appealing to common needs. What needs consumers are addressing impacts the types of foodservice operation they choose to patronize. Similarly, operators choose to work with members of the supply chain who meet their needs.

Some of this may seem fundamental, but as Jay Ringlehim points out in this month’s Parting Shot (page 80), the skill sets and knowledge that once made you successful won’t guarantee similar success in the future.

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