The best advice you can get on how your company should approach the industry is to ask your customers! More importantly, ask your potential customers. But you need to be willing to listen, even if its not what you think is right.

A few years ago my partner and I worked with a company that had been around the industry for decades. The owner and president had been running the show for thirty-plus years, and times had been great until the 2008 recession hit. Like most organizations they struggled to find ways each year to hold on to the revenue they had the year before, but instead of adapting to the changing market, they doubled-down on their efforts to do more of what they had always done. The trouble was, their idea of what the customers wanted wasn’t what the current customers wanted, or so said the sales team, who were being told by customers why they were canceling their orders. So we decided to do a little investigating, and here’s what we found:

Stop Telling Customers What They Want!

  1. They had never done any type of customer or marketplace surveys. In fact, it was the spouses of the senior leadership who met and decided what they liked, and therefore what everyone else should also like.
  2. The “Steering Committee” consisted of the owner, the owner’s family members, the president, VP and CFO. Not one member of the board was from another organization with industry expertise, and no input from field sales or customers was evaluated.
  3. When consultants were brought in, they were actually hired by the president and became employees of the organization. Instead of independent thought and suggestion, they simply agreed with the opinions of the president to keep their jobs. Those who did not agree with the president simply disappeared from the company. (By disagree, I mean any insistence on doing something different than what had always worked in the past).

The message here is simple in definition: Figure out what customers want, then find a way to deliver it in a way that is feasible, profitable and scale-able. It doesn’t often require a complete departure from current brands, products or services, but typically requires small tweaks of already defined processes.

Stop trying to “tell” the customer what they want; instead ask them. and most importantly, accept that one person cannot decide what to change or not change. Surveys are simple to conduct and easy to measure the response data. Programs like Survey Monkey are easy to execute, but even more effective is to enlist the help of some of your key customers and prospects. Make sure you have decent sample size and diversity for statistical feasibility. Keep it short and simple, and offer some sort of reward for helping. Often it can be non-monetary; recognition goes a long way. What’s more difficult is deciding what questions to ask and what to do with the responses. That’s where internal influence from your sales team and external influence from outside industry experts comes in. Identify the goal of the survey, choose the best target audience, and tailor just a handful of questions to the specific responses you require.

It’s funny, but I find that customers are willing to pay more for what they want more than what a company tells their customers what they should want. Ever been invited to participate in an Adler-Weiner Research program? The companies who hire them to conduct consumer research seem to agree with what I’m saying.

So stop telling customers what they want! Ask them.

Mat Forester

VP of Sales & Marketing with an excellent record in business and corporate development, operations, strategy, profit growth and training. Proven leadership ability demonstrated in management roles throughout career. Major strengths include team leadership, sales and marketing leadership, increasing revenue and profit, hiring effective sales and operations professionals, motivating and training reps and managers for future leadership roles.