Seán Meehan

Martin Hilti Professor of Marketing & Change Management and Dean of Faculty

Seán Meehan, Martin Hilti Professor of Marketing & Change Management and Dean of Faculty at IMD, is an award-winning author on customer centricity and how organizations can deploy customer-led strategies to deliver superior performance. He works with senior executives from companies across the globe to help them deliver strong results through a tireless focus on customer value creation.

Meehan’s work shows how businesses that believe putting customers interests ahead of those of all other stakeholders perform better for all stakeholders. While this might seem obvious, it is incredibly difficult for organizations to become truly customer-led, and even harder to maintain, as he shows in his 2021 book, The Customer Copernicus. The book’s insights won praise from former Unilever CEO Paul Polman, Danfoss President and CEO Kim Fausing and DBS CEO Piyush Gupta, among others.

This research provides a toolkit for how businesses can become and stay truly customer-led, particularly as they face the new challenges of the post-pandemic period. The key component is an outside-in approach that involves taking a lead from customers and pioneering on their behalf, rather than the prevailing inside-out belief systems of most organizations, who see things from their own perspectives and are driven by their own internal agendas and more immediate, proximate and accessible concerns.

Over two decades I have developed unique insights into customer centricity and how difficult it is to do well. I can show companies how to achieve it and maintain it.

Meehan has applied this analysis to companies such as Amazon, Deliveroo, easyJet and Sky, which have all succeeded by putting the customer at the center of value creation, but also to Tesco, O2 and Wells Fargo, former customer-led successes that ended up losing their way.

He has co-authored two other important books on the subject: Simply Better: Winning and Keeping Customers by Delivering What Matters Most and Beyond the Familiar: Long Term Growth through Customer Focus and Innovation. The first of these was named Marketing Book of the Year by the American Marketing Association in 2005 after it challenged the widespread notion that companies succeed by small differentiations in their offering and showed that getting the basics right was far more important.

He has also been published in Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Review, Business Strategy Review, strategy+business, Marketing Research, Marketing Science Institute Reports, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.

At IMD Meehan has designed and delivered leadership development programs for companies such as Agricultural Bank of China, Air France-KLM, Caterpillar, COFRA, Geberit, Hilti, Julius Baer, Lindt & Sprüngli, MasterCard International, Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings, PWC, Sandvik, Schindler, Swiss Re, Telefonica, Toyota and Vodafone.

He has also directed the IMD MBA program, IMD’s Chief Marketing Officer Roundtable, its flagship program Orchestrating Winning Performance and its most senior leadership program the Breakthrough Program for Senior Executives.

He joined IMD in 1997, having previously worked with Deloitte where he was a Marketing Director and Arthur Andersen where he also worked in consulting and qualified as a Certified Public Accountant.

Selected publications
Book
The Customer Copernicus: How to be customer-led
The Customer Copernicus directly addresses the customer-led reality gap – the profusion of claims versus the paucity of real examples. The crucial element explaining this is belief – people’s share...
Published 16 May 2021
Article
How customer-led beliefs lie behind Handelsbanken’s extraordinary success
Handelsbanken is an extraordinary organisation. It is probably the most successful bank you’ve never heard of. It is one of Sweden’s leaders with over 750 branches in six home markets (Sweden, Denm...
Published 24 May 2021
Article
Leaders of the future will need to be socially aware, and entrepreneurial: Seán Meehan
IMD Business School's Martin Hilti Professor of Marketing and Change Management and Dean of MBA Program, talks about the challenges plaguing the Indian society and the need to revisit the lessons o...
Published 10 August 2018
Book
Beyond the familiar: Long-term growth through customer focus and innovation
Strong customer-focused companies have a clear, relevant promise which they obsessively deliver day-in, day-out. At the same time, they relentlessly drive the market by evolving the offer in the fa...
Published 1 January 2011
Article
Why Nokia's collapse should scare Apple
Nokia's inability to field a credible response to the launch of the iPhone in 2007 and Google's Android operating system in 2008 has precipitated a freefall in its share price. Today, Apple is ridi...
Published 25 April 2011
Article
Die Kunden verstehen lernen
Warum Konsumenten etwas kaufen, ist eine der wichtigsten Fragen für Unternehmen. Mit den neuen Medien gibt es erstmals Werkzeuge, um die Motive der Zielgruppe live zu analysieren. Eine Anleitung.¦W...
Published 1 February 2011
Article
The one thing you must get right when building a brand
As usual, marketers are turning hype into hyperventilation. This time, it’s about the supposed end of marketing as we know it, thanks to the rise of social media and the shift of power to consumers...
Published 1 December 2010
Book
Simply better: Winning and keeping customers by delivering what matters most
In their relentless quest for differentiation, many companies have poured their energies into making their offerings distinctive from competitors. Yet, according to marketing experts Patrick Barwis...
Published 26 August 2004
Article
The customer puzzle
It's time for a fresh look: keep it simple and think inside the box.
Published 18 March 2005
How to be Customer-Led
The Customer Copernicus
Programs
On campus
Orchestrating Winning Performance

Reset for sustainable and inclusive growth

IMD's signature program, OWP, brings you the latest business trends, thought leadership and insights to revitalize your business, drive innovation and lead you forward. Fully customizable schedule. For executives and teams.

Location: Lausanne Length: 5 days Fee: CHF 10,900 Next start: 26 June 2023
On campus
Master of Business Administration

Let purpose power your future

Develop reflective and responsible leadership skills as you gain the knowledge you need to maximize your career impact, succeed in a rapidly evolving world and make sustainable impact in your organization and society.

Location: Lausanne Length: One year Fee: CHF 97,500 Next start: 12 January 2023
On campus
High Performance Boards

How board directors make a real difference

Inspired by the latest research and drawing on more than 40 years of board education experience, High Performance Boards examines issues related to supervisory board performance and effectiveness.

Location: Lausanne Length: 3 days Fee: CHF 12,500 Next start: 28 November 2022
Academic publications
Book
The Customer Copernicus: How to be customer-led
The Customer Copernicus directly addresses the customer-led reality gap – the profusion of claims versus the paucity of real examples. The crucial element explaining this is belief – people’s share...
Published 16 May 2021
Insight for Executives
Article
When personality beats skill set
What matters in a customer-facing role? What do customers want from someone they deal with directly, in person or on a call? It’s not rocket science. Literally. Rocket, or any other form of scienc...
Published 1 October 2021
Report
Customer-led success stories
Some companies are great for customers – not only do they care but they change whole markets to work better for the customers they serve. The Customer Copernicus answers the question that follows –...
Published 25 August 2021
How to create and sustain a customer-led business
Video
How to create and sustain a customer-led business
Ultimately, the success of any company whether it is serving consumers or other companies is their customers. This is why customer-led companies tend to outperform, and why so many people seek to b...
Published 21 June 2021
Article
How customer-led beliefs lie behind Handelsbanken’s extraordinary success
Handelsbanken is an extraordinary organisation. It is probably the most successful bank you’ve never heard of. It is one of Sweden’s leaders with over 750 branches in six home markets (Sweden, Denm...
Published 24 May 2021
Clarify customer centricity and your business will flourish
Video
Clarify customer centricity and your business will flourish
We hear the buzzword customer centricity all the time, but does it really mean anything anymore? At OWP liVe, Professor Seán Meehan will outline how to recalibrate your organization to be a custome...
Published 21 May 2021
The Customer Copernicus
Book
The Customer Copernicus
The Customer Copernicus directly addresses the customer-led reality gap – the profusion of claims versus the paucity of real examples. The crucial element explaining this is belief – people’s share...
Published 16 May 2021
Danfoss core & clear (C)
Case Study
Danfoss core & clear (C)
The case series documents the transformation of Danfoss from a debtladen fragmented industrial holding company close to bankruptcy in 2008 to a high performing, financially robust group with a clea...
Published 10 August 2017
Danfoss core & clear (B)
Case Study
Danfoss core & clear (B)
The case series documents the transformation of Danfoss from a debtladen fragmented industrial holding company close to bankruptcy in 2008 to a high performing, financially robust group with a clea...
Published 10 August 2017
Danfoss core & clear (A)
Case Study
Danfoss core & clear (A)
The case series documents the transformation of Danfoss from a debtladen fragmented industrial holding company close to bankruptcy in 2008 to a high performing, financially robust group with a clea...
Published 10 August 2017
So you think your company is customer-led?
Article
So you think your company is customer-led?
Customers matter. No one would argue with that. But so do finance, people, operations, innovation and lots more. What impact do all these competing priorities have on a company’s ability to remain ...
Published 13 July 2017
Report
The belief trade-off: Customers or efficiency first?
Understanding customers and acting on that understanding is critical to success – so say 62.7% of senior executives. Yet only 24% adopt a customer-led approach to running their business. Our data c...
Published 13 July 2017
DBS transformation (C): The world's best digital bank
Case Study
DBS transformation (C): The world's best digital bank
This case series examines the two stage transformation of DBS 2009- 2017. In both stages the bank places the customer as the centre of its thinking about how to structure, resource and play in the ...
Published 6 July 2017
DBS transformation (B): Going digital and creating a 22,000 person start-up
Case Study
DBS transformation (B): Going digital and creating a 22,000 person start-up
This case series examines the two stage transformation of DBS 2009- 2017. In both stages the bank places the customer as the centre of its thinking about how to structure, resource and play in the ...
Published 6 July 2017
DBS transformation (A): Becoming a world-class multinational bank
Case Study
DBS transformation (A): Becoming a world-class multinational bank
This case series examines the two stage transformation of DBS 2009- 2017. In both stages the bank places the customer as the centre of its thinking about how to structure, resource and play in the ...
Published 6 July 2017
Report
The belief trade-off: Customers or efficiency first?
Data from 454 executives suggested they were either customer-led or efficiency-led, but that only the customer-led approach contributed to competitive success. The evidence suggests customers lose ...
Published 2 May 2017
Ryanair strategic positioning (A): July 2013
Case Study
Ryanair strategic positioning (A): July 2013
By 2013, after over near 30 years, Ryanair has become the largest airline in Europe in terms of passengers flown internationally. It outperformed its low cost rivals on most operational dimensions....
Published 23 March 2017
Ryanair strategic positioning (B): Always getting better
Case Study
Ryanair strategic positioning (B): Always getting better
By 2013, after over near 30 years, Ryanair has become the largest airline in Europe in terms of passengers flown internationally. It outperformed its low cost rivals on most operational dimensions....
Published 23 March 2017
How breakthrough leadership can defy company death
Article
How breakthrough leadership can defy company death
Too often when business is going well, nobody at a company is screaming for change; it is only when profits are in decline and it is too late.
Published 13 September 2016
Article
Using NPS to drive customer focus, revenue and profit
Patrick Barwise and Seán Meehan describe how power supply business Aggreko used the Net Promoter Score to drive customer focus through the organisation and consolidate its global market leadership....
Published 6 February 2015
Co-creating transformation journeys
Article
Co-creating transformation journeys
Corporations must learn and adapt to thrive in the rapidly changing business environment. In its 25 years of existence, IMD has worked with some of the best and most sophisticated organizations on ...
Published 11 March 2014
Article
Innovation beyond blue oceans
The article discusses that success of Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and the company's approach to innovation. The authors explore how the company's marketing strategy has used blue ocean theory of i...
Published 1 October 2012
Article
Customer insights that matter
Long term growth comes from delivering and relentlessly improving a relevant customer promise. To support this, firms should use many sources of customer insights, including, but not limited to, fo...
Published 1 June 2011
Article
An unstoppable megabrand
Sixty-five years after the introduction of Tide in the US, it still dominates the market. How did Procter & Gamble achieve such a feat? Through continuous incremental innovation, consumer relevance...
Published 1 June 2011
Article
Why Nokia's collapse should scare Apple
Nokia's inability to field a credible response to the launch of the iPhone in 2007 and Google's Android operating system in 2008 has precipitated a freefall in its share price. Today, Apple is ridi...
Published 25 April 2011
Beyond the Familiar
Book
Beyond the Familiar
Strong customer-focused companies have a clear, relevant promise which they obsessively deliver day-in, day-out. At the same time, they relentlessly drive the market by evolving the offer in the fa...
Published 10 March 2011
Article
Die Kunden verstehen lernen
Warum Konsumenten etwas kaufen, ist eine der wichtigsten Fragen für Unternehmen. Mit den neuen Medien gibt es erstmals Werkzeuge, um die Motive der Zielgruppe live zu analysieren. Eine Anleitung.¦W...
Published 1 February 2011
Article
The one thing you must get right when building a brand
As usual, marketers are turning hype into hyperventilation. This time, it’s about the supposed end of marketing as we know it, thanks to the rise of social media and the shift of power to consumers...
Published 1 December 2010
Article
Differentiation that matters
This articles turns the accepted wisdom of marketing on its head. Attacking what some would see as the core concepts (or myths as they see them) of "uniqueness" and "table stakes", they argue that ...
Published 1 June 2009
Article
So you think you're a good listener
The article states that managers in the United States rate their performance higher when using 360-degree surveys and reports that there is a gap between self-evaluation and colleagues' rating of a...
Published 1 April 2008
Article
Six rules to become simply better
In this article the authors suggest that, instead of trying to offer uniqueness, companies should channel their energies into being simply better than the competition.
Published 1 November 2004
Article
Making differentiation make a difference
By paying attention to what consumers really want, companies can attract new customers and create a distinctive brand.
Published 30 September 2004
Article
Don't be unique, be better
According to conventional wisdom, businesses must offer something unique in order to compete successfully; the rub is that this task is becoming more difficult as products and services become more ...
Published 1 August 2004
Article
Simply better: Delivering what matters most
The authors' approach turns the core of marketing thinking in its head by arguing that success in achieved, not by unique differentiators as conventional wisdom dictates, but by delivering the gene...
Published 1 February 2004
Article
Lessons from Hilti: How customer and employee contact improves strategy implementation
While everyone pays lip service to customer and employee orientation, few achieve it. One company that has built its whole strategy around close identification with customers is Hilti, a tool and i...
Published 1 August 2002
Article
Customer responsiveness: Getting it fast and right through impatience and intolerance
Customer responsiveness is about being fast and right. The value of being right is obvious - customers get something that meets their needs. But the value also depends critically on the speed with ...
Published 1 February 2002
True belief in a customer-led approach
Report
True belief in a customer-led approach
Research conducted showed 63% of senior executives reckoned understanding customers and acting on that understanding was critical to success. Yet only 24% adopted a customer-led approach to running...
Published 1 January 2000
Customer-Led Success Stories
Report
Customer-Led Success Stories
Some companies are great for customers – not only do they care but they change whole markets to work better for the customers they serve.
Published 1 January 2000
Customer-Led Success Stories
Report
Customer-Led Success Stories
Some companies are great for customers – not only do they care but they change whole markets to work better for the customers they serve.
Published 1 January 2000
Article
What do we really know about market orientation?
Marketing specialists often expect management to accept without further elaboration that market orientation is good for all businesses. Yet there is much confusion as to what is meant by market ori...
Published 1 April 1996