The Chicken or the Egg: Do Your Customers Know What They Need?

In this blog, we often talk to business owners like you about finding your secret sauce.

To do that we suggest you talk to your customers. But we don’t mean ask them what they want, or what they like. We want you to ask them what they don’t like. We want you to hear the nasty complaints, the crazy-making irritations that drive people to slam the phone down or look for a new supplier.

You need to hear this bad news. Because the innovations and solutions you and your team dream up to solve these thorny issues that bleed profitability are the very ingredients that will become your secret sauce. How come? Because your competition isn’t listening to what they don’t like to hear either.

Looking for nasty complaints is very different from doing traditional market research. Market research makes a broad assumption that your customers and prospects know what they are looking for.

This is like asking a 4 year old to tell you what they want for dinner. What you hear will not match what you know a 4 year old should be eating.

Who understands nutrition? You or the 4 year old? You’ve just set yourself up for a battle royal.

Who’s the expert in your industry, you or your prospects? If you are not being the expert in your business, guiding your clients and customers in what they need, based on their needs and perceptions then you are missing a huge opportunity to swim in the blue ocean where your competition fears to enter.

To be the expert, you have to focus. You have to make distinctions about what works and what doesn’t. “Use our tools this way, not that way, if you want this result.” “When this happens, here’s what you need to do next.” “If you want this experience, then try these ideas on for size.”

If your company is trying to build your growth strategy based on surveys, focus groups and demographic data, then it may be time to overhaul your thinking. Let’s look at how market research would have killed off ideas we love today.

Before FedEx, did you know that you wanted to get letters to people overnight and were willing to go from paying $0.32 for a postage stamp to $32.00 for FedEx to get it there overnight? If asked in a market research survey, you would have thought that this idea was ridiculous. “What a waste of money!” But today business spends $11 billion on Fed Ex alone, never mind its competitors.

Before SmartPhones, did you know that you wanted your phone to be a camera and your camera to play music? If you were surveyed long before the iPhone appeared, what do you think you would have told Apple? “I want to use my phone to call people, why on earth do I need it to play music?” Last year, we gave Apple $8.2 billion in iPhone revenues.

Did you know that you wanted to walk into a restaurant and feel like it was a homey environment where you were going to have a personal chef attend to your every need, without you having to prompt the waiter to give you that kind of service? “Why do I want a restaurant to feel like home when I’ve got that at home? I want something different when I go out.” This is one of the latest trends in restaurants.

Did you know that when you walk into a retail store you really don’t need a sales person on commission, you actually need a style consultant who helps you understand how to make you look your best for the budget you have to work with? “Do I want a teenager telling me how to dress?” Great retail stores are re-thinking how to actually ‘serve’ their customers by talking to them, not surveying them.

The truth is, if you put your customer hat on, most of us don’t know what we need and want until we experience having something new.

Market research questions anticipate answers and expect a level of knowledge and awareness your prospects don’t have.

The truth is, market research gets you answers that keep your company small.

To grow you have to be the expert, which means taking the risk to anticipate needs.

Read Fast Company’s article on how your high performance management team can be the innovators if you look for the right complaints to improve your products and services.

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