Great businesses and their leaders think ‘outside in’, the customer is the focal point of everything they do and how they do it. They are fanatical about looking at themselves through their customers’ lens and culturally are self-challenging, forever asking probing questions; Royston Guest looks further. 


How easy are we to do business with?

Are we delivering a world-class customer experience?

What business are we really in?

Do you know something, most business owners and leaders do not know what business they are really in!

In his book Bottled for Business, Kiran Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra beer, talks about the importance of being able to define what business he was really in.

Bilimoria created Cobra as a smooth lager for drinking with Indian meals. Many lagers were gassy and left him bloated and full before he could finish his meal and he wanted to create one that did the opposite.

The beer he produced wasn’t without its challenges: he chose to only provide it in 660ml bottles when restaurant owners were used to the 330ml bottles; insisted on selling a minimum of five cases; and each case was slightly more expensive than the competition.

Bilimoria tackled those objections by moving the perception of Cobra from being in the beer business, to being something quite different. The secret of his product was in its smoothness and drinkability. The uniqueness was the key selling point he presented to would-be customers – Indian restaurants in the southern counties of the UK – when he started out. He would literally knock on the doors of restaurants, ask for the owner, and place one of his beers in front of them, explaining that it was less gassy and therefore less filling, which meant customers would be more likely to order extra rice and naan bread with their curries, or have three beers instead of two. This different approach turned the conversation away from the potential objections, to how much more curry the restaurant would be able to sell.

Bilimoria achieved success by understanding what business he was really in; not beer, but helping Indian restaurant owners sell more curries, increase their profits, and put more money in their pockets.

There’s a long list of companies that have been able to redefine their product and service offerings and to create great new commercial opportunities for themselves by answering the all-important question; what business are they really in?

Now, here’s a simple exercise for you.

Write down your answer to the question: what business are you in? Don’t over analyse or over think your answer; it is not a trick question. Just capture your immediate response in black or white or worst case, imprint the answer firmly in your conscious mind.

Now, in my experience most people answer that question from one of three angles. First, they think they’re in the business dictated by the name of their business; second, the industry in which they operate; or third, the products or services they provide.

But actually, nothing could be further from the truth.

You see, I don’t think most people know what business they are really in.

Notice what impact the addition of one word has when you change ‘what business are you in?’ to ‘what business are you ‘really’ in?’ Your response to the first question will drive you down the road of answering the question from a logical perspective aligned to your industry or products and services you provide.

Your response to the second question creates an entirely different dynamic: great businesses think differently, they think ‘outside in’ as opposed to inside out. Adding one word ‘really’ to the question challenges you to go beyond the physical product or service you provide and delve deeper into the benefits your customer receives by choosing your products and services.

Now complete the exercise again but answer the question; what business are you really in? Simply changing the direction of your lens from ‘inside out’ to ‘outside will help you see your business through the eyes of your existing and prospective customers. And I hope you agree, it has the potential to completely transform how you think about your business, and how you engage with employees, customers, shareholders, partners.

Royson Guest





Royston Guest is a global authority on growing businesses and unlocking people potential. He is CEO of Pti-Worldwide, author of #1 best-selling business growth book, Built to Grow, now available on audible and founder of Built to Grow Mastermind programme. Follow him on Facebookor Instagram. Connect with him on LinkedIn or check out his weekly blog at