The Purpose of Business is to Serve a Customer

Leestijd: 4 min (read)

Long ago Peter Drucker, the father of business consulting, made a very profound observation: “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

But what if Drucker was wrong?

What if ..

.. the creation of a customer is not the purpose, rather a means to an end?

While business is about deploying resources effectively and making workers as productive as possible, what if,

additionally, ..

.. we could make customers productive and consumption effective too?

Does this make sense?

Instead of working towards the customer, we could work alongside, helping them to make better informed decisions, while serving them in such a way that they can achieve a maximum return on investment.

Wouldn’t this contribute to their willingness to spend more time and money with us?

This goes to servant leadership, a transforming theory on leadingship coined by Robert K. Greenleaf (1904-1990). Greenleaf inspired great management book authors, like Norman Vincent PealeStephen CoveyPeter Drucker and Ken Blanchard.

Greenleef’s credo was: “If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant [..].”

If we focus our efforts on creating a customer, with a reward system that is targeted at the moment of conversion, aren’t we likely to undermine Greenleef’s theory?

In other words, while we keep our focus on creating customers, do we really believe that the employees that serve the customer will be as motivated as those that create the customer, knowing that the rewards beyond the moment of creation are not nearly as lucrative or even completely absent?

Just think about this for a while ..

I’ve tried to capture the differences in an image:

With this in mind: consider the fact that almost all businesses began with an obsession of serving each customer with the utmost care. They witnessed the actual experience of the product and felt all of the excitement ..

Do you remember the smile on your first happy customer’s face?

It made you feel good, didn’t it?

Now then, shouldn’t we consider to reward those, that actually satify the customer’s needs and by doing so increase the likelyhood of future business, at least as much as those that created the customer?

Wouldn’t this give a bold signal to all customer-facing employees? Saying: You are all equally as important in the pursuit of fulfilling our purpose!

Would that work for your brand, do you think?

Ok, I get it, your business is all grown up now. You’re in management. Or marketing. Or sales. Or service. You have no control beyond your silo-walls. It is so much easier to just be responsible for a target.

Am I right?

But what about those exceptional moments of joy in the beginning?

Isn’t that what made you stick to your dream, against all odds?

If you still don’t care, I get it.

Really. I’ve been there. I made lots of money off of customers.

So, I do understand why you started to care about money, about profit, about marketshare and KPI’s. About fingerprinting and profiling. About ratings and attributions. About journeys and conversions. About performance and cost. About strategy and business models.

Because you started to care about ‘you’ instead. About YOUR success. And the success of your business.

But it won’t last. If will not fulfill you, nor your brand. It will drain you dry.

I know, I’ve been there.

Until I stopped. I walked away from a really great job. Or at least I thought it was. Because the business I worked for did not care about employee happiness or customer fulfillment for one bit. It merely craved revenue. And it was willing to get it in any way possible.

But I wasn’t. Not anymore. Not at the expense of a fellow human …

And then I started to think. And I began to realize that business should never be about making as much money as possible off of customers.

I don’t think you feel it should either. You would not be here otherwise.

Most of us don’t think we should.

Revenue is a means to an end.

And customers are .. well, they could be you.

Deep down, it is and it has always been about being offered a chance to serve a customer. In a way that satisfies both your needs as well as theirs.

It is about caring. About meaning. About pride. And EQuitability.

Therefore, to serve a customer can be the only true purpose.

Drucker was wrong.

To serve a customer is the only end that will keep your entire business fully engaged with the customer’s needs throughout their customer life time. And the only end that will inspire your customer to stick around for as long as you care for their problems.


Whishing you many happy (customer) returns!

Edwin Korver (Gonzalez) - CROSS SILO BV
Edwin Korver (Gonzalez) - CROSS SILO BV
CEO, CROSS SILO BV en Uitgever van iCity Magazine
Ontwerper van de ROUNDMAP - een 360-graden mapping systeem gericht op waardecreatie, klantinteractie en duurzame klantwaarde (CLV) -
Eerder werkzaam voor o.a. Dow Jones (US), CMG Finance (NL), SCSK Corporation (Japan), The Internet Plaza en Enternet. Beschikbaar als lid RvB (CMO/CDO/CSO) of RvC.

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