Posts Tagged ‘customer research


Don’t waste your customer’s time on pointless research

I’m a huge believer in polling your customers to uncover key insights into how they buy, what they think of my clients, how they evaluate similar suppliers, etc. In fact, most of my assignments start with customer phone interviews because the information uncovered during these conversations is priceless when it comes to developing a strategy that is truly relevant to the people who actually buy your products or services. Fundamental marketing.

So why did I recently refuse a client’s request to make these critical calls? Have I decided to cut the customer out of the marketing process and simply guess at what they need? If you believe that, I have some nice Florida swampland to sell you.

Here’s the scenario. I had worked with this client’s sales team for several months with good results. However, I was also tasked with working with the marketing director. He had very different ideas when it came to “marketing”. After giving my recommendations as to the direction of the customer survey, I received a short list of questions he wanted to ask his company’s clients. Everything seemed fine until I saw the questions.

This smart, capable marketing director wanted to ask an audience of high level, technology buyers questions including:

“If you were to buy us a drink, what kind of drink would it be?”
“If we were a car, what kind of car would we be?”
“If we were an airline, which airline would we be?”

What would you think if some marketing guy called you up and asked you these questions? He had done this type of survey before and was dead set on repeating this folly. In my experience with this person, I knew that there was no chance of changing the direction of the survey. Not only would I not embarrass myself or my client asking such superficial, pointless questions, I could not see how this line of questioning would provide us with useful information that would help fulfill the CEO’s dictum – to increase sales, revenue and profit.

I know that a lot of marketing people ask these types of questions and think they are uncovering useful information. My problem with this approach is that it is far too subjective and open to interpretation. For example, if a customer says you are a Jaguar, you might think, “We are high end, performance oriented, expensive and desirable.” However, the client might have a very different view of Jaguar and might have meant “Overpriced, conspicuous, prone to breakdowns and impractical.”

If the client wanted to buy us a “White Russian” how could I possibly distill anything from such an answer that would specifically help the company sell more products or enhance their value? At least I would know how the client prefers to pick up girls at the bar.

My questions would have been much different. They might include:

“What is your buying criteria and how is it ranked?”
“If we stopped doing business, who would you buy from and why?”
“How do we compare to the competition based on your buying criteria?”
“What is your buying/selection process?”
“In what areas do we need to improve?”
“Why do you continue to buy from us?”
“What other needs might you have that we could fulfill?”

But what do I know. If I were a car, I’d be a 1965 Corvette.


The single most important thing you can do to grow your business.

First let me say that I’ve been guilty of what I’m about to share with you. In the past, as the founder and owner of a successful marketing firm in Milwaukee, I thought I knew everything I needed to know about what my customers want and how they buy. My biggest mistake was thinking that my company could do no wrong when it came to servicing clients. I thought we were the best and I knew my clients knew it. The sky was the limit and my ego was pushing this limit to the max.

The irony is that my team regularly developed and executed customer surveys for our clients but we never did one for ourselves. After a particularly perplexing client phone call, I called my friend, Bill Lowell from Business Development Directives and asked him to perform executive interviews with a random sample of my clients. Something wasn’t right and I realized I was too close to the problem to put my finger on it.

Bill performed interviews with thirty past and present clients. While we scored very high in overall satisfaction, around 98%, our survey went beyond satisfaction metrics and focused on where we could improve; attitudes about pricing, buying criteria and more. After all, even a satisfied customer will still buy from someone else if the circumstances are right. We learned that many of our clients also bought from our competitors – including some we had never heard of before! I learned that clients wanted to see more of me – and less of a certain staff member who was described by more than one client as “obnoxious”. The biggest thing we discovered is that many of our clients thought our pricing was too low!

Since then, I’ve come to personally understand the importance of working with customers to refine, improve and focus marketing and sales efforts. I’ve developed a process that moves beyond mere “customer satisfaction” and provides answers to the questions that keep you up at night.

You might be wondering why I brought in Bill to do my survey when we were in the business of doing this type of work. The reason is simple. This is one of the few tasks companies should never attempt to do themselves. Of course I encourage you to have regular dialogs with your customers to gain insight and create strong personal bonds. However, customers are reluctant to tell you about issues that they think may insult you or hurt your feelings – the very issues that are hurting your business! By performing anonymous interviews with an objective, third party, customers are more willing to be completely candid.

Not just a conversation – an Executive Interview
Furthermore, a casual conversation is much different from the executive interviews performed during the research process. This process produces very specific data used to spot trends. Each question must be carefully developed and delivered in exactly the same way to ensure that respondents are not “led” by the researcher to a biased answer. The survey is done in a tightly controlled manner and is designed to answer specific questions.

Generally the surveys I implement are designed to uncover the criteria and process used to select one company over another. Is reputation more important than price? Is location important? Is industry specialization the key factor? Once this criteria is identified and ranked, we’ll ask how we compare to competitors based on this criteria. Using a combination of structured and open ended questions, (remember, this is a conversation, not an interrogation), we get down to what is really important to your customers; how you can do better, what they really think of your business, how they make buying decisions, other needs they may have, who your competitors really are, and much more. Each survey is tailored to what you need to know to sell more, increase profit and close more deals.

The million dollar question
It’s difficult to predict the outcome of these surveys. Typically, we find out that our clients’ perceptions and assumptions are about 90 percent accurate. They know their business and generally make good decisions. What makes the biggest impact is the 10 percent they are getting wrong and the customers are more than happy to set us straight. For one client, we learned that a majority of their customers felt that a certain employee’s involvement was critical to continue doing business with my client. In other words, if this employee left, the customers would leave with him. Another client discovered that a customer was buying from a competitor simply because they didn’t know my client provided this type of product. This resulted in an additional $2.5 million dollars in revenue – simply because we asked the question!

Customer surveys should be a regular part of your operations. Done properly, they can have immense impact on the success of your business. There are no shortcuts here. The good news is that your customers are chomping at the proverbial bit to tell you what’s on their minds. All you have to do is ask.

Who is Pete Monfre

CLICK HERE to visit my web site

I'm a serial entrepreneur, marketing and media guy, raconteur, writer, producer and consultant. I write this little blog to help you unravel the mysteries of marketing and selling, to expose the silliness that masquerades as marketing and help you make better decisions that will grow your business. And I have fun with it. Why not comment? That way we can have a conversation. Or better yet, hop on over to my web site and drop me a line.

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