Big companies in Silicon Valley are successful all over the world. But how did they achieve this success? Marketing expert Rosa Markarian reveals the three most important secrets of success.
“I blew billions of dollars on Amazon,” says Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and at one time the richest man in the world. Being bold is Jeff Bezos’ recipe for success: “My job is to encourage people to be bold. And when you make bold bets, it leads to experimentation. Experiments already contain failure.”
In fact, day-to-day work at a company like Amazon is very different from what I’ve experienced before. In the past 15 years I have held management positions in various German companies, then switched to Amazon and have also gained insights into Silicon Valley companies such as Google and Facebook through many business relationships within my network. Amazon may not be based in Silicon Valley, but 16 hours’ drive away in Seattle, but there are still major parallels.
Rosa is Chief Revenue Officer at Visoon, the video distribution joint venture between Axel Springer and Paramount. There she is responsible for the areas of sales, marketing and operations with the aim of implementing the digital transformation at Visoon.
I see three points that are the secret of success of US companies like Google, Amazon
Amazon’s most important principle is not simply customer centricity, but customer obsession. A commonplace example of this is the PR FAQ document. If you have an idea for a new product or project, the first thing you do is write a press release – just like it would be published when the idea becomes ready for the market. It contains a pointed description of the idea and, above all, what advantages it has for customers – including customer quotes.
This is followed by FAQs that answer internal questions about implementation. This document is read and discussed with management and is the basis for project approval. The PR FAQ document forces the writer to think from the customer’s perspective. The project goal is thus much more tangible than with a classic PowerPoint presentation, which is commonly used and with which a customer would never have anything to do.
In the course of the project, the PR FAQ document serves as a guiding star. Decisions are consistently based on what is best for the customer. Actually a logical thing, after all, the success of a product stands or falls with its success with the customer. Nevertheless, I have often seen companies make decisions based on internal considerations instead. Motto: “We’ve always done it this way”. At Amazon, customer obsession always beats other motives.
Google makes its mistakes, i.e. products that are not successful with customers, even publicly in the digital Google graveyard. Google’s motto: You learn from mistakes. And only those who make mistakes move and try something new. This includes the courage to name mistakes and share them with colleagues.
In the weekly Amazon sales meetings, two agenda items are always mandatory: highlights and lowlights. There is no week without Lowlight. Otherwise it would be absolute standstill – and this would then be the low light.
Ideas for fixing the lowlights are discussed directly in the meeting. If a lowlight is a major error, the Correction of Error (CoE) document is used. In the CoE document the error is described, why it happened, what effects it has or could have and finally – most importantly – everything that needs to be done to prevent this error in the future.
This error culture is lived because it is positively anchored in everyone’s mind. It’s not about the classic “blame game”, i.e. pointing the finger at others, but about finding positive things in the mistakes and using them for further development.
I saw how a traditional German company worked to build up a culture of error. Even after several change management workshops, employees still said: “But I can’t tell my boss that I did something wrong!”
At Google and Co., the most important principles are part of the company DNA. We all know great business principles, mostly generic ones, stuck on a nice poster somewhere on the office wall. But are they really lived?
At Amazon there are 16 Leadership Principles that are actually breathed in day-to-day business. Decisions are made every day by referring to the Principles. Employee performance and project success are measured against the principles.
How could a German company introduce customer obsession or error culture? Training and an explanation of how the concept works is not enough. It takes three things: understanding, time and managers who act as role models. When I first started working more closely with US companies, I found many things admirable, but also many things strange.
Putting the customer perspective first means only tackling the analysis and detailed planning as a second step, which is not exactly “typically German”. Trying things out means risking mistakes, also not “typically German”. However, I then analyzed “typically German” where this culture comes from by reading literature on the culture of Silicon Valley and the USA. It was only with this understanding that I adopted new principles and linked them to the strengths of German companies.
As Jeff Bezos said, experimentation, not copying, is essential to business success. It’s not about emulating everything from Google and Amazon. The goal is to create a corporate culture that suits the respective company and the team. Try it out. Perhaps you are moving from testing and writing a PR FAQ document to a whole new process, which in turn is a role model for other companies. We won’t know unless we try.
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