Shrimp vs. Weenies: The True Value of an Owner Mindset

In today’s CXM Experience podcast I rather cryptically referenced “shrimp vs. weenies.” No, it’s not a new video game, or a short-lived reality TV show.  “Shrimp vs. Weenies” is a classic Microsoft memo. And even though it was written almost 30 years ago, the gist of the memo is every bit as valid today.

First, some quick background:

Shrimp vs weenie

In 1993 Microsoft had just launched Windows 3.1 to much fanfare. Microsoft Office was well on its way to industry domination. But the company, in the midst of massive growth, risked losing an important piece of its identity. Early Microsoft succeeded, in part, because of its owner mindset. The employees felt a personal responsibility for corporate success and profitability. A catered team lunch was likely to feature weenies, not shrimp.

But as Microsoft grew they began to lose this mindset. Profitability became someone else’s problem. “Shrimp” began to show up on the menu. Maybe not literal shrimp. But figurative shrimp, in the form of slowly escalating expenses that threatened to undermine a core success factor. This reached its zenith in the great t-shirt wars, where internal teams tried to outdo each other with ever-escalating internal swag giveaways (you can, and should, read the memo in its entirety here).

This isn’t to say that splurging for t-shirts (or actual shrimp) is unnecessary or wrong. Because ultimately, “shrimp vs. weenies” isn’t about an individual expense. It’s about understanding, and respecting, who’s paying the bills: Your customers.

Remember, it’s all about the customer

As organizations grow it’s easy to lose sight of our true focus. We obsess about our products and services. We talk about products, have meetings about our products, email and slack about our products. It’s perfectly natural, and perfectly understandable that our products become the center of our universe. Our KPIs and success metrics revolve around our products.

But, ultimately, it’s the customer who deserves our focus. This is a classic Copernican Shift in action — we think our company revolves around our products, when actually it revolves around our customers. Without customers we would have no product, no company, no revenue. Our paychecks literally (although indirectly) come from our customers. They’re writing us checks, or giving us their credit cards. They’re paying for the weenies.

The “shrimp vs. weenies” dichotomy is all about recognizing the value of our customers, and providing rich, personalized experiences that treat customers as an indispensable part of organizational success. Because that’s what they are.

Putting the customer first goes far beyond a catchy slogan or an afternoon training session. True customer focus requires significant changes in the very fabric of our organizations. It requires breaking down silos, changing organizational structures, and revamping compensation. “Customer first” requires a single, consolidated, comprehensive, front-office view of the customer across every corporate function.

It’s a big change, but something we must do in an era where the customer is empowered like never before.