Seán Meehan

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

Seán Meehan is Martin Hilti Professor of Marketing and Change Management and Dean of Faculty. He 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 Breakthrough Program for Senior Executives.

Meehan 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
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
Article
ACORN in the political marketplace
A study was undertaken to examine A Classification of Residential Neighborhoods (ACORN), a relatively new segmentation tool for use by management. The proposal that ACORN was a suitable basis for s...
Published 1 January 1986
Article
Is your company as customer-focused as you think?
This article discusses ways that companies can ensure that their products or services remain relevant to customers. The article cites management consultant Peter Drucker's marketing concept that th...
Published 1 April 2010
Insight for Executives
The future of customer-centricity, with Professor Sean Meehan
Article
The future of customer-centricity, with Professor Sean Meehan
In episode 4 of ManagementCast, Professor Sean Meehan tells listeners just what to expect when dealing with the consumers of tomorrow.
Published 12 May 2022
Maintaining market position with Professor Seán Meehan
Article
Maintaining market position with Professor Seán Meehan
In episode 3 of ManagementCast, Professor Seán Meehan describes the pitfalls of pursuing customer-centricity, and how to avoid them.
Published 28 April 2022
Seán Meehan on how to become customer-centric
Article
Seán Meehan on how to become customer-centric
In episode 2 of ManagementCast, Professor Sean Meehan gives an insight into how to become customer-focused.
Published 14 April 2022
Article
The origins of customer-centricity
Professor Sean Meehan, the Dean of Faculty at IMD, speaks about the origins of Customer Centricity
Published 31 March 2022
Article
How Transport for London became a pioneer in customer-led innovation
Launched in July 2000 with overall responsibility for keeping London moving across multiple forms of public transport, Transport for London has boldly innovated with a series of potentially risky m...
Published 19 November 2021
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
Article
Switch sales targets for happiness targets: How to foster customer-led employees
While 62% of businesses claim being customer-led is critical to success, only 24% are truly customer-led. Why is it so hard? And why do organisations fail to maintain a customer-led strategy? Charl...
Published 30 June 2021
Article
How AO.com underwent a customer-led transformation to become a £1bn success story
From start-up to a £1 billion valuation in 15 years, online retailer AO.com is a remarkable success story. And it has achieved this by fostering a customer-led ethos. Seán Meehan and Charlie Dawson...
Published 23 June 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
Tesco’s dramatic fall and how to avoid it
Keeping the customer satisfied is key to creating a ‘super’ brand, but maintaining that success is notoriously difficult
Published 17 June 2021
Article
The end of Amazon? Can a new CEO follow Jeff Bezos and maintain its customer-led success?
Even though Amazon is experiencing extraordinary growth, has plentiful reserves and is much admired, is Andy Jassy inheriting a poisoned chalice when he takes over as CEO next month? Can he emulate...
Published 17 June 2021
Article
Five successful customer-centric companies – and the lessons we can learn from them
We shouldn’t take customer-first exaltations at face value. They are common. But true customer-led success is not, according to Seán Meehan and Charlie Dawson. What leaders say (and perhaps think) ...
Published 15 June 2021
Article
Customers not CEOs decide whether companies succeed
Some companies are great for customers – not only do they care but they change whole markets to work better for the customers they serve. Think of Amazon, easyJet and Sky. They make things easier a...
Published 1 June 2021
Article
Why a customer-led approach is hard to sustain for companies
Some companies are great for being customer-led, not only do they care but they change whole markets to work better for the customers they serve. Think of Amazon, easyJet, and Sky, they make things...
Published 27 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
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
Article
Lest so viele Rankings wie möglich
Our ambition is to offer our MBA candidates the best leadership development experience in the world. Our graduates should be best prepared for their role as leaders in a global enterprise. And we ...
Published 13 September 2018
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
Article
Ever more consequential shifts
Published 19 September 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
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
Image
Article
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 14 September 2016
Article
The hidden threat of customer-led growth
The companies behind the world's most popular brands are exceptional. They have beaten the odds by surviving the birthing process, transitioning from small to medium, eventually graduating to “the ...
Published 1 March 2016
Article
FIFA: A can of worms and an unprecedented opportunity
Just days after his re-election, Sepp Blatter announced his resignation as president of FIFA. Although sponsors who called for reform welcomed the news, the controversy is far from over. At a momen...
Published 3 June 2015
Article
Scandale FIFA: La leçon des JO de Salt Lake City
Les sponsors, qui demandaient des réformes, ont applaudi à l'annonce de la démission de Sepp Blatter a la tête de la FIFA. Pourtant la controverse est loin d'être terminée.
Published 3 June 2015
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
Article
Web owners beware
Published 22 April 2013
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
Marketing case studies: Tide – bridging the empathy gap and selling the top brass (part 2)
Despite a series of successful product innovations, in 2005 US household penetration of Tide was in decline, reflecting long-term societal trends. Women still did the laundry in most homes but Tide...
Published 9 September 2012
Article
Marketing case studies: Tide – from technical breakthrough to long-term money machine (part 1)
Even as it was launching Tide, P&G was working on process innovations to expand capacity and reduce costs and product innovations to ensure that it consistently delivered its core promise – cleanin...
Published 23 August 2012
Article
Doing business in Asia
Werner Geissler is vice chairman of global operations at Procter & Gamble. He talked to Séan Meehan about the challenges and opportunities Asia presents.¦Stereotypes of Asia abound. What are the mo...
Published 1 April 2012
Article
Evolving China
John A. Quelch is distinguished professor of international management, vice president and dean at the China Europe International Business School. His research focus is on global marketing and brand...
Published 1 April 2012
Article
The myth of 'pioneer advantage'
What company wouldn't want to be a successful pioneer, creating and dominating a completely new product category or business model? Just look at the success and public recognition of FedEx, Southwe...
Published 2 February 2012
Article
Insights are not enough
Insights will not contribute to success unless there is a dramatic change in how evidence is handled.¦Market research can have an impact on business performance only if it generates valid, actionab...
Published 1 February 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
Relentless tide: 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
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
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
How to be Customer-Led