Evolving with Your Customers: 3 Organizations That Get It Right

Ryan Estis - McGladrey keynote
Visual keynote via Julie Smart, Making Ideas Visible

Every week I attend company meetings, user conferences and trade shows around the country. No matter what industry I’m supporting, when I work with truly innovative companies, similar themes start to emerge.

One theme in particular has really resonated: Great companies learn from, and evolve with, their customers. I heard executives with three very different organizations emphasize their commitment to listening to and learning with customers. In fact, each leader credited his organization’s success to the deeper level of understanding achieved working in such close collaboration with customers.

Here’s a little insight into three organizations that are evolving armed with deep customer insight and winning because of it.


IQNavigator helps organizations manage non-employee labor and services with cloud-based technology. At the company’s recent user conference, CEO Joe Juliano delivered a powerful message about working with and learning from customers. He talked about the many changes the company has made — all as a direct result of sitting down with customers and learning what their priorities are, how their needs are changing, and what they expect from IQNavigator as a partner. The business is evolving specifically to meet customers’ needs, and learning with customers is a top priority.

In a business environment that sometimes seems more focused on showing profit every quarter than innovating for success, that’s a powerful message that resonates with both employees and customers.


I also recently had the opportunity to work with professional services firm McGladrey. The image in this post is a visual representation of the keynote I gave, created by Julie Smart.

The company’s ad campaign “The Power of Being Understood” is all about working with partners who understand and support you. This commercial from the campaign is one of my favorites.

The message from the campaign isn’t just a clever marketing construct. Mike Kirley, managing partner and COO, emphasized the company’s commitment to “the power of being understood” at their recent Futuremakers partner conference. McGladrey has built their business around the power of being understood, both internally through relationships between employees and their managers and externally through the relationships they develop with customers. It’s a simple but powerful premise when it’s put into practice with such a high degree of focus and consistency.

Listening and learning to create shared understanding are tenants of McGladrey’s model. Demonstrating the desire to understand is a powerful character trait. When you can make decisions from a place of shared understanding, you’ll be well-positioned to grow with your customers.


Finally, I just participated in the annual “Connections” user conference put on by the HR technology company SilkRoad. CEO John Shackleton kicked off the morning by telling 500 customers that the company’s only sustainable asset is its relationship with the people sitting in the room.

He emphasized the importance of customer feedback, openly acknowledged mistakes made along the way, and shared the company’s intention to evolve the business informed by customer insight. The company is actively asking for customer input, and putting what they hear into action.

I see more companies learning alongside their customers, and staying transparent about changes (and mistakes) they make as they evolve. Smart leaders know that customers want to be understood. You can grow quickly when you’re not afraid to ask for feedback, listen to what customers want, and make decisions from a place of deeper understanding. Opening your organization to the spirit of collaboration through listening and learning is a powerful way to approach the future of work.

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