Pam Lopez is a managing partner and co-founder of Customer Focused Strategies (CFS), an Atlanta-based, women-owned management consulting firm. With her extensive cross-functional background, Pam views client challenges from a very holistic perspective.
Her experience building and running high-performing sales, marketing and customer service organizations also provides a strong foundation for her work in strategy, organizational design and effectiveness and training.
In 1999, Pam left corporate leadership to build a different kind of consulting experience. For Customer Focused Strategies, the voice of the customer is the foundation of every phase of every client engagement.
CFS’s team of seasoned executives partner with clients on strategy, implementation and management of all projects. Twenty-one years of experience providing a wide range of services has resulted in CFS’s long-standing partnerships with clients from Technology, to Energy, to Healthcare.
Follow Customer Focused Strategies on LinkedIn and Twitter.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- Why Pam Started Customer Focused Strategies
- What makes CFS unique from other management consulting firms
- The areas or disciplines CFS consults
- Their customer philosophy
- What Pam finds most valuable about her WBENC and GWBC affiliation
- The secret to leveraging your WBENC certification
- Pam’s proudest accomplishments in her 21 years of running CFS
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for GWBC Radio’s Open for Business. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:18] Lee Kantor here. Another episode of GWBC Radio, and this is going to be a good one. Today, we have with us Pam Lopez with Customer Focused Strategies. Welcome, Pam.
Pam Lopez: [00:00:29] Lee, I appreciate you having me on today.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:31] Well, I’m excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us a little bit about Customer Focused Strategies, how are you serving folks?
Pam Lopez: [00:00:36] Sure. So, we are a women-owned management consulting firm in the Atlanta area. And we’ve been in business for about 22 years. And we really specialize in a couple of things. First of all, a relentless focus on the customer and also bridging the gap between strategy and execution on our projects.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:56] So, how’d you get into this line of work?
Pam Lopez: [00:00:59] So, I worked in corporate America and so did the other founder, co-founder Suzanne Beisner. And we worked with a number of consultants while we were in corporate America. And while we had some good experiences, we always felt like there could have been something more. There was a new business model. There was a different way of partnering with the customer. And so, we really created Customer Focused Strategy to do just that, to be kind of an extension of our partners team, to be that true go-to partner, and somebody that could really work with you and connect the dots across your organization. And that’s proven to be successful for us in our journey so far.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:38] So, when you’re talking about customer focus, what exactly do you mean by that?
Pam Lopez: [00:01:42] Sure. So, we work in about five different areas, and that’s where we specialize. So, there are projects in product management, anything to do with sales and sales advancement, marketing, anything to do with that, and a lot of that digital marketing these days, and then customer service. So, that could be both the strategies or the operational execution of that. And then, training. So, we don’t do all training, but we do training as it relates to those other four core disciplines.
Pam Lopez: [00:02:14] And in each of those, we try to think of the customer in three different ways. They’re always at the center of what we do. And it’s our customer, our client, and our nimbleness and flexibility and responsiveness with them. It’s our client’s internal customers and then it’s also our client’s end customers. So, we try to bring the voice of all of that together in a project. And it really forms the foundation for everything we do. And we believe so strongly in that, that that’s why we put the word customer in our very name of Customer Focused Strategies, to be that constant reminder. It’s really in the fabric, the very DNA of who we are as a company.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:56] So, now, what is the pain that your customers are having where CFS is the solution? Like, is there something that is a symptom of a problem that that’s when they start kind of reaching out to you?
Pam Lopez: [00:03:10] Well, we can help them in a number of areas. But if I go back to those five areas that I talked about before, what we’ve noticed is that between sales and marketing, or it could be between marketing and customer service, or the training organization and sales, that there can sometimes be some pain points, some friction points. And all of those groups that we talked about, sales and marketing and customer service and the product management teams, they all are doing things for and with the customer. And really helping those groups to work well together, and to think about the implications of what you’re doing and your role inside the customer, and how it affects those other stakeholders, and how you can be a better partner to them. And those ways of working that make the end better than the sum of all the parts.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:03] Now, do you find that when you’re working in those kinds of different areas, that there are friction? There is maybe not a congruence and clarity of messaging across all of those different constituents, and that that’s where sometimes the friction occurs?
Pam Lopez: [00:04:17] Absolutely. And, Lee, we’ve had customers that have told us, “Guys, you’re really good at learning our business and then helping to connect the dots.” So, that’s what we’re all about. So, we’ll be in a meeting working on one project. We’ll, maybe, have to interview some other people from an adjacent group and understand their point of view or those friction points that we talked about. And as we’re talking to them, we’ll be, “Did you realize that this other group over here is doing something similar? You may want to reach out and talk to them.” So, it’s that connecting of the dots to that we really love to do and our customers have told us we’re good at.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:57] Now, do you work a lot with those kind of fast growing companies where the growth is so explosive that it’s difficult to keep everybody on the same page?
Pam Lopez: [00:05:06] Well, that’s a great point, Lee. And a lot of us in our company started out in the wireless industry. And some of us started out in the early days, kind of the Wild Wild West as it was. And we were struggling so much just to keep up with growth that nobody had time to document anything. So, we work with clients of all different sizes. We tend to work with a lot of medium sized companies and larger sized companies, even some of the Fortune 100 and Global 500. But we find that some of the same principles carry across that. And we can work in organizations where they are very established, almost too much so. And we have to kind of teach them how to be more nimble and flexible and provide that reminder.
Pam Lopez: [00:05:53] And then, we also can work in those startups or those really high growth areas where we might go in to do discovery on a project. And we have a list of 25 things we’d like to see and they say, “Yeah. That’d be great. That’s part of why we need you here though, because we don’t have any of that documented.” So, that’s what makes it exciting is that we’re constantly working with different types of customers. And they’re at different stages in their own journeys.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:25] Now, do you ever work with, like, private equity firms or VCs to help when they’re doing a merger acquisition?
Pam Lopez: [00:06:35] We haven’t done a lot of that today. We do think that’s something that, because of kind of our holistic approach that we take and the unique kind of cross-functional backgrounds that so many in our team have and just our years of experience, that we really can be helpful. And we have consulted with friends of ours that are in that industry and have clients that they’re working with or startups that they’re working with. But we tend to work a little bit more with the customers themselves.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:03] So, now, what has happened, like, in your career, maybe when you were younger, that kind of made you gravitate to this customer philosophy and to focus like a laser beam around the customer experience and how the customer feels and thinks and behaves?
Pam Lopez: [00:07:23] Yeah. I wish I could say it was all part of a grand plan. But it’s really looking back and realizing the unique things that you have in your own personal background. And so, I started out my career actually working in sales for Xerox, which Xerox and IBM were two of the best companies back then for really giving you a great sales foundation. And then, I migrated into positions of responsibility and marketing. And I was ultimately VP of marketing in a wireless company. And then, I always just had kind of a curious nature, so I’d be tapped for different task forces or groups where they wanted to just tackle a problem and put some collective good minds on a topic.
Pam Lopez: [00:08:10] And through that experience, I actually worked on one project where we were recommending that we take a different approach to customer service for the organization. And the president came and tapped me subsequently and said, “We’d like you to be our VP of customer service.” And I said, “But you realize I’ve never done that before.” And he said, “Yes. But we know the way you act and the way you tackle a problem, and you won’t have preconceived notions about the way things have to be done. But you’ll approach it openly and you’ll get the job done.”
Pam Lopez: [00:08:44] So, after having my first child, I took just a brief hiatus from corporate America. And I realized that that background in sales and marketing and customer service and the various angles all about the customer, but from various vantage points, really kind of made me a little bit unique. And I’m not the only one that has that background. And that’s what makes, I think, our team at CFS really so successful, is that we found a number of people that are highly skilled in a couple of different areas. So, we can start a project that might be about strategy, but we can carry all the way through implementation and execution. And it’s, in our experience, kind of rare to find individuals within a consulting team that have the desire and the skill set to go across all of that. And, also, to work in various different functional organizations within the company.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:47] So, now, is there any low hanging fruit for people that are out there that want to just do better in this area? Are there some things that you say, “Why aren’t they just doing this or taking care of this? This is like right in front of their face.”
Pam Lopez: [00:10:03] Yeah. I think it’s really about what I said before in terms of the customer and really thinking through constantly those three elements of the customer, your client, their other internal partners and customers, and then ultimately the most important customer, their end customer. And it’s surprising to me that more people don’t bring kind of that voice and put all that together for the client. And so, I think that’s a real opportunity for all of us to get better at constantly.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:38] Now, is there any kind of work you’ve done that you can share? You don’t have to name their name, but you were kind of proud of or was rewarding in the sense that you helped, maybe, shore up an area of weakness and made it a strength or you helped the customer or client get to the next level.
Pam Lopez: [00:10:56] Yeah. I think one of the things I love doing is working with very established companies, maybe companies that haven’t had to be as concerned about growth in the past and looking for new ways to generate revenue. And so, it’s helping them with the concepts of how could we bring on some additional revenue streams? It’s helping them think through, “Gosh. This party has come into our industry. Should I be worried about them?” And help them think through, “Well, yes, you should, because of X, Y and Z.” Generally, that’s the answer versus, no, don’t be worried about them because there’s so much disruption that’s going on today. And then, helping them think through the products that would be associated with some of those new revenue streams. And then, doing the very hard work of vetting the product, developing the product, implementing the product, and then doing the lifecycle management after that. So, those are some of the things we’ve done across a number of clients and I still get very excited and passionate about every day.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:08] Now, are there certain niches that you serve more than others? Like, do you have some specialties or more deep knowledge of certain industries?
Pam Lopez: [00:12:19] Yeah, we do. And it’s kind of a hybrid because we started out in telecommunications, great experience in wireless, and we’ve been in it since the 2G days. And now, of course, we’re in the 5G and some of our customers are already thinking through 6G. We also got into the utility industry a couple of years ago because we realized there were some real parallels between the telecommunications industry and utilities. And there were some things that utilities could learn from some of the experiences that telecommunications had. But yet, they still are both somewhat regulated, in some cases, very regulated environments. So, we got into utilities.
Pam Lopez: [00:13:01] And then, we’ve also been really fortunate that our customers have taken us with them into other industries and other companies. So, we might work with one of them at a wireless carrier and they go to work for somebody in the software space, for example, or into transportation and logistics, or into high tech. And most recently, we have ventured into the health care space, which is a new space with lots of challenges, but it’s been very exciting. So, the ones I mentioned are kind of the main industries that we’ve played in to date.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:38] So, now, what was the reason you decided to kind of become a member of GWBC and become a woman certified business?
Pam Lopez: [00:13:48] So, that’s actually a very interesting story. So, my business partner and I, when we first started collaborating 23, 24 years ago, we each had our own separate consulting firms. And we decided after a short period that we needed to create a new entity that we would market under and do all our business under, and that was Customer Focused Strategies. But Customer Focused Strategies is actually owned by our two original companies. And so, we had thought about becoming a Women-Owned Certified Company over the years. But it was kind of daunting because we really felt like to do this right, we needed to do all three entities so it would be very, very clear that it was all women-owned, women lead. And so, we did that in the end of 2015, we actually got our first certification.
Pam Lopez: [00:14:41] And we felt like it was really important if we were going to do that and make that commitment. And you need to recertify every year, so it’s an ongoing commitment. But we found it to be really worth it. But if you’re going to do it, you really need to practice some of the things that Roz Lewis continually reminds us all of. And that is, you do need to participate. You need to show up to grow up in these events and opportunities. And, also, I constantly remind myself now, because of some of that council, that you’ve also got to step back and work on your business, not just in your business every day. Because it’s very tempting and you can stay very busy just working in your business.
Pam Lopez: [00:15:26] And so, those are some of the things I’ve really appreciated. As well as, you know, sometimes in corporate America, over the decades, you haven’t always felt like maybe other people were there to support you and lift you up. And sometimes you were competing for some of the same positions. But I have not found that to be the case in WBENC or GWBC. It’s a very supportive teaming environment where people are willing to share and willing to support one another.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:00] And not only is it very supportive and collaborative, there’s also opportunities to get opportunities, right? You can really leverage the certification to grow your practice.
Pam Lopez: [00:16:14] Yes. And I think every year, Lee, that’s become – I can only speak for the last five or so years, but every year I’ve been involved, that becomes more important. And I think companies are really trying to make sure that they do a better job of being more inclusive to some of these diverse types of suppliers. And so, there, it’s really important, too, that you get to know some of what they call the corporates, the corporations that have these supplier diversity programs.
Pam Lopez: [00:16:43] And it’s not just good enough to become involved in WBENC or GWBC. You’ve got to become involved with these supplier diversity individuals. And we’ve seen already, just in our five years, that when you go into that space, you tend to stay in that space. So, many of these individuals will go run supplier diversity for another company. And you’ve got another opportunity there. So, it’s really important to find out what’s important to them, and to work with them, and to let them get to know you.
Pam Lopez: [00:17:16] And, you know, it’s a numbers game. Like a lot of things in sales or business development, you’ve got to do a lot of them before you’re going to find success. And it’s really a long game. If you expect that things are going to happen in the first 90 days or the first 12 months, you might get real fortunate and have something come your way. But, generally, this is more of a long term investment that you’re going to make. But we have found that it has paid off.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:47] So, any advice out there for either woman-owned business out there that wants to start a business or just any entrepreneur out there that wants to start a business? Anything that you would like to share about how you’ve gone through your journey?
Pam Lopez: [00:18:04] Sure. I think it’s fortitude. So, this is, again, a long game. So, you’ve got to have what it takes and do that self-examination for am I in a position financially? Am I in a position emotionally that I can really sustain this when the going might get tough, because it will at certain points. And do you have the resilience? Can you really look at constantly trying to reinvent yourself? And sometimes that’s incremental. You know, with COVID-19 with a lot of companies, they had to do a complete pivot. They did a step change in reinventing who they were.
Pam Lopez: [00:18:46] And then, the other thing, I think, is, this is not a one person operation. This is in a company. It’s made up of team members. And surrounding yourself with great people. People who are stronger and better than you are. Knowing what your strengths are and complementing your weaknesses with people who are stronger than you. I think that’s really important.
Pam Lopez: [00:19:11] And then, the the other thing that I just see in all of our work, that a lot of companies have trouble doing and it’s difficult, is really understanding what your unique value proposition is. So, what do you do that nobody else does? And understanding that, I think, is really critical.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:35] And for you, the thing that helps you stand out, what would you say is your kind of unique secret sauce?
Pam Lopez: [00:19:44] Sure. I think it’s that relentless focus on the customer that we’ve talked about. And I think it’s being that true partner that can help you in a number of aspects in your business once we get to know you. And I think it’s also that bridging the gap between thinking through strategy with you and doing the details of implementation. So, we never want to be where we help you produce a strategy that sits on a shelf or is in a cloud somewhere. We like to live the implementation of that and be your partner on that journey.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:20] Good stuff. Well, congratulations on all of the success, Pam.
Pam Lopez: [00:20:24] Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:28] Now, if somebody wants to learn more, have a more substantive conversation with you or somebody on your team, what’s the website?
Pam Lopez: [00:20:35] Sure. It’s customerfocused-E-D-strategies-I-E-S, so customerfocusedstrategies.com. And there is a link there for more info and you’ll be directed to either Suzanne or myself immediately.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:51] Well, thank you for sharing your story today. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Pam Lopez: [00:20:55] Well, thank you so much. Have a wonderful day. And thanks for the opportunity, Lee.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:59] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We will see you all next time on GWBC Open for Business.
The Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®) is at the forefront of redefining women business enterprises (WBEs). An increasing focus on supplier diversity means major corporations are viewing our WBEs as innovative, flexible and competitive solutions. The number of women-owned businesses is rising to reflect an increasingly diverse consumer base of women making a majority of buying decision for herself, her family and her business.
GWBC® has partnered with dozens of major companies who are committed to providing a sustainable foundation through our guiding principles to bring education, training and the standardization of national certification to women businesses in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.