Customer Orientation has many alternative "names". Examples are: Customer Focus, Market Orientation, Market Focus, Customer Relationship Management ("CRM") etc
Customer Orientation has many different implications for a company/organisation. It is partly a cultural phenomenon: the attitude that the customer dictates what is important and not, what should be prioritized and what should be left undone. This attitude is very often NOT found in a company, where a mentality of expertism is abound ("The customers dont even know what they want, we decide for them").
It involves a continuous improvement in business processes. It is "the business seen from the point of view of its final result, that is, from the customer’s point of view." (Peter F. Drucker, 1994, p.39)
Customer orientation and sales orientation are two extremes in dealing with customers. A salesperson can never adopt both attitudes in serving a customer.
Customer orientation places an emphasis on listening to customers (e.g., I try to find out what kind of product would be most helpful to a customer) and dialogue (e.g., I try to get customer to discuss their needs with me). Customer-oriented salespeople tend to exhibit behaviors that enhance long term customer satisfaction, possibly at the expense of immediate sales.
On the other hand, sales orientation encourages opportunistic means (e.g., I paint too rosy a picture of my products to make them sound as good as possible) if these are necessary to make the sale. Sales-oriented salespeople tend to focus on immediate sales regardless of customer benefit, possibly at the expense of long-term satisfaction.
There are seven key behaviors that strongly indicate a customer orientation attitude: