Know your customer and give them what they need - continuously!

customers in my hands.jpg

Last week I was at a conference where the keynote speaker concluded his speech five times over the course of 20 minutes. I cannot recall what he specifically spoke about, but when he wound down after 6 minutes, I thought to myself – “This guy is great! He just gave us one idea and how to get there and then, boom! He’s done!” But just as we were about the applaud him, he picked up his speech for the next point, and then the point after that. By the time he truly ended, the applause was muted; and there was a long pause before it started up. This is not an article about effective speaking – although it may well be adapted for it – but more about knowing your customer and give them what they want. So in this article, I will talk about the 5 things that all businesses need to focus on to stay ahead in the crowded and noisy marketplace.

1. Know who your customers are

It is strange to talk about who our customers are; after all, we have been delivering our widgets and solutions to them for years (some of us, even decades!) Actually, the longer you have been in business, the more muddled you might be; and cannot specifically articulate who your customers are. In fact, many business owners tell me that, “Everyone is my customer. So long as you have (hair/feet/a mobile phone/clothes/a body etc…fill in as appropriate) you are my customer.” Even if that were the truth, it would not help you because your message to encompass all these people will be so diffused that nobody knows what you really did. And this would not fly.

2. What do they need?

In the talk, we really didn’t need to sit at the table listening to someone whom many don’t know, and whose credibility is not sterling. In fact, he was between us and lunch! We really didn’t need more postulations at that time; and if there was something that needed to be said, then we needed it in bite-sized format (the pun was intended!); short and sharp! That it didn’t get dished out meant that the whole 20 minutes was a waste of time! In business, it is the same thing. Why try to market things that no one wants? Why postulate something that might not make any sense? Wouldn’t that send your marketing dollars straight down the gutter?

3. Know what’s out there in the market

Many of us are in love with our own product. We believe we have the next best thing after sliced bread! In our enthusiasm for our product, we become blinded to what others offer, and the price that they offer them at. Don’t let your idea pull the wool over your eyes; maintain a strong vigilance of the market and embrace the newness that your competitors bring to the table. In fact, you should be their very first customer for all product launches, so that you can uncover the ins and outs of their new idea long before the rest of the market catches up to it!

4. Talk to your customers

Steve Jobs famously said that customers don’t know what they want, we have to show it to them. While that might be true to some extent, talking to our customers allows us to uncover what their pains are in using our product, and then to think up a solution to overcome that. And it doesn’t have to be the most advanced, highfalutin product that contains all the bells and whistles; just a simple solution that helps them overcome their pains – that is all they need. And many a times, you can uncover that simply by talking to them!

5. Co-creating

This has become a big deal over the past couple of years - customer co-creation. In an age of ever-shorter product lifecycles and wispy customer loyalty, getting your customers onboard with your new product development at the ground level helps you shorten the development time, mitigate wrong assumptions, and secure much-needed support when the product goes to market. By involving your customers, not only do you get greater buy-in, you also get much needed feedback which you would never have gotten if you went it alone.

So, when was the last time you spoke – really spoke – to your customers?

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