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Why Customers Are The Answer To All Your Problems (If You Ask the Right Questions)

Last week I asked whether it is employees or customers who are more important to an organisation. If you missed it read “Customers Care About a Product’s Value, Not How the Company Treats Employees” now and catch up.

I knew it would be a provocative question but I still didn’t expect quite so many comments! So this week I decided to be just as provocative and talk about the issues that challenge many businesses. And where the answer to whatever problem they have is actually quite simple. For me, customers are the answer! They can either answer or help you overcome any challenge or issue you may have.  Read on and then let me know if you agree.

 

How can I innovate more successfully?

 
According to an excellent article by Harvard Professor Dr Srini Pillay “Humans have a natural aversion to innovation because it involves a healthy dose of uncertainty and risk.”
 
 
Unfortunately, we try to reduce this risk by referencing past events to help us to predict the probability of our future success. Dr Pillay concludes that possibilities rather than probabilities are more likely to lead to better results.
 
I would concur with this statement, as the world is changing too fast to rely on past events as a predictor of anything in the future. This is why I say that customers are the answer!
 
It is only by getting closer to our customers and being constantly curious, that we have any chance of increasing our success in satisfying them.
 
It therefore makes sense that we involve our customers in helping us innovate. Not as a judge of concepts, which is what many businesses do. This is wrong because we know that consumers don’t know what they want, at least not until they see it.
 
However, they do know what their pains are; what is wrong with a product or service and what they would rather have. Co-creation and in fact ongoing conversations with our customers is the only way to stay ahead of the game.
 
In another article, this time in the HBRHeitor MartinsYran Bartolomeu Dias and Somesh Khanna from McKinsey shared the results of numerous interviews they conducted in Silicon Valley, the home of US (tech) innovation.
 
They conclude that it takes many skills and cultural changes for most organisations to become more innovative. These include:
  • Audacity and grit: The determination to continue despite failure. And I would add the acceptance of failure and the license for employees to fail too.
  • Strong leadership and true collaboration: An inspiring vision and the tenacity to make it happen – together.
  • Give employees autonomy. We all need meaningful work. The chance of helping an organisation grow is what motivates top employees. That and the freedom to make decisions based on clear goals but without directive processes on how to meet these objectives.
  • Build platforms, not products. This may be the hardest for many organisations to grasp. Giving your customers the opportunity to decide what and how they use what you produce, and how it should be changed is the route to success. Networks and co-creation are the future that is already here. And customers are the answer!
 
  • Think like engineers and customers. Everyone in an organisation should be encouraged to look at problems from the customer’s perspective. It always amazes me how we seem to “take off our consumer hat” when we arrive at our place of work!
  • Know that money only gets you so far. Innovation has a much shorter shelf-life than it used to. In fact, best-in-class organisations have a continuous process ingrained in their culture.
  • Get acquisitions right. Many companies are looking for acquisitions for a way to quick-start their innovation. But it is difficult to get the timing right. The current value is good but potential growth is better.
 
The article concludes with an interesting comment that it is “leadership in business model innovation that offers the deepest and most transformational insights.” I would add it’s our customers too!
 
If innovation is a challenge for you and you know your process is not optimal, then you might like to read “Improving Ideation, Insight & Innovation: How to Prevent Further Costly Failures.”

Where do I find out what issues my brand has?

You’re measuring your sales and hopefully the trend is upwards. You’re following your distribution and hopefully it’s expanding. You’re calculating your profits and hopefully those are also rising. What else are you doing to follow your brand?
 
You would be amazed at just how many brand managers stop there! Even those in major CPG companies! It’s not enough. You know nothing about your customers! Your forecasts are based on outdated information from the past. (and if you didn’t skip to this point but read the previous one, you know why that’s insufficient)
 
The health of your brand and a good estimate of at least its short-term future comes from your work with customers. From brand image and equity,   to co-creation and observation, your customers are the answer.
 
Brand image and equity measurements are vital for helping you to understand what current and potential clients think about your brand. If you want to learn more about the topic then read “What Every Marketer Needs to Know about Brand Image, Equity, Personality & Archetypes.”
 
There is an additional bonus in following your brand image and that is that it acts as an early-warning signal. This is because it almost always starts to decline before your sales do!
 
The reason for this is that we are creatures of habit, retailers included. Change is difficult as a decision has to be made. So we tend to continue with the same products and services until something important happens. Important in the eye of the customer that is.
 
It may be a new brand introduction, a price promotion, bad publicity or negative comments on social media. If these are important enough to customers then they may decide to change brands. And if this impacts a lot of customers, the sales decline can be fast and significant.
 
Better therefore to follow your image as well as comments on social media.
 
Social media platforms can provide a wealth of information about your brand. Of course, different people adopt different platforms for different uses. Pew Research ran a useful analysis in their Social Media Update 2016 of the demographic similarities and differences of channels in the US. It is definitely worth a read to understand these differences, as well as to identify the best platforms for your own brands.
 
Another good source of social media statistics is from Smart Insights. Their “Global social media research summary 2017” combines information from numerous sources and provides a global perspective.
 
The sort of information that can be gathered from social media includes:
  • Natural vocabulary used by your customers.
  • Issues customers have with products and services, often in real time.
  • Trending topics of interest; use trend alerts rather than the keyword tool from Google, which is slower to update.
  • Regional or country differences from topic frequencies.
 
Observation and listening in person can provide extra benefits that social media can’t. The two information sources are thus complementary. In fact, I would consider them to be the best way to identify brand issues, long before running any market research surveys. For more on best practices in customer closeness sessions, check out “Five Rules of Observation and Why it’s Hard to Do Effectively.” 
 
 

How can I grow my brand more profitably?

As you know there are basically only three ways to grow your business:

  • Get more customers to buy.
  • Get customers to buy more.
  • Get customers to buy more frequently
 
You will see that all three ways involve the customer; of course, they do! As you know, one of my favourite quotes says “There may be customers without brands, but there are no brands without customers.” If you still haven’t understood the message, your customers are the answer to everything!
Just think about that for a moment, please. A simple but profound statement, don’t you think? Therefore, your customer is the solution to your business growth and profitability.
 
Speaking of which, sometimes a business is growing but has done so by slashing prices and being on constant promotion. This doesn’t grow your brand, it demolishes it! Both its value and reputation! Read more about this and head the warning in “Are you on the Way to Brand Heaven or Hell?”
 
A far better way to grow more profitably is to understand the value that you offer to your customers. This is done through a PSM (price sensitivity measurement), a price trade-off study (BPTO) or similar survey. These will provide you with the information you need to understand your customers’ perception of your value. Whether your price is too high or too low, you’re leaving money on the table and could be more profitable. 
 

 

Why is market research not enough to understand my customers?

There are so many reasons why running market research is insufficient to really know and understand your customers and your business. I don’t know where to start, but here are a few reasons I’ve come up with (please add your own in the comments box below):
  1. Projects are sample based.
  2. They are at best snapshots of current opinions and behaviours.
  3. The information can quickly become outdated.
  4. They ask questions.
  5. They have limited focus.
  6. People don’t tell the truth.
  7. People don’t know why they do what they do.
  8. Results are extrapolated.
  9. Results are open to interpretation.
 
I could go on and on with this list – and again feel free to add further ideas in the comments below – but you get the idea.
 
Now don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of market research. BUT done by experts. Unfortunately, with the ease of connecting with people online and the simple survey platforms offered for free, it is easy for anyone to run a research project today.
 
It’s great that people see the benefit of surveys, but as this subtitle mentions, it’s not enough for truly knowing and understanding your customers. Also, if the reasons I gave above are not enough, there’s something else!
 
The biggest issue from my perspective is that understanding takes far more information than any single market research project can provide. Yes, it may deliver certain answers to a finite number of questions, but to understand your customer you need to get intimate.
 
I wrote a blog on just this topic which you might want to check out for a more detailed plan on getting to know your customers. It’s called “4 “Free” Ways to Connect with Customers for World-Class Understanding.”
 
 

Why are customers always the answer?

There are many organisations that understand the importance of the customer and yet still hesitate to start walking the talk of customer centricity. If you’re one of them, then here are a few statistics that should convince you  – and your bosses – of their importance:
  • Customer centric organisations are 60% more profitable. (Source)
  • The average revenue growth of Customer Experience Leaders is 14% points higher than that of the laggards. (Source)
  • 64% of people think that customer experience is more important than price in their choice of brand. (Source) 
I don’t think anyone can read those numbers and not be excited by the potential for growth. So what are you waiting for?

Conclusions

 
As you see, our customers can provide many if not all the answers to almost any question we may have about our businesses. After all, we are in business to make a difference to our customers lives in one way or another. So it is surprising that we still go looking for our answers elsewhere.
 
If I haven’t highlighted your main business challenge for 2017, then please add a comment below. I’m sure the customer will still be the answer – but prove me wrong!
 

If you’re ready to adopt a Customer First Strategy, book a free half-hour advisory session with me directly in my calendar, so we can go through your priorities and discuss solutions.

New Thinking, New Ideas, New Successes!

Things have been pretty hectic for me these past few weeks. As you read this, I am in New York presenting at the CASRO Technology and Innovation Event, 6th to 7th June. If you’re attending the event, please stop me and say “HI”; it would be awesome to meet some of my American readers!

I then head down to Miami where I am guest lecturer of an Executive MBA course at Miami University. The following week I fly back up to Atlanta to speak and chair a session at IIeX-NA from 13th to 15th June.

If you’ve never been to an IIeX Insight Innovation Exchange event, then you’ve missed a really exciting conference. It’s run like a multi-channel TED event, where most of the presentations are just 15 minutes long. You are never bored and can learn and experience things you can’t find elsewhere. And if you want to learn even more, there are also longer workshop-style talks on a multitude of topics.

There’s still time to attend and using my special speaker discount code (SPEAKER20) you’ll get a very generous 20% off the full price! If you do attend, don’t forget to stop me and say “HI”.    

I’m Taking a Marketing Course!

As if the preparation for all these events wasn’t enough, I also started a marketing course a couple of months ago. You might wonder why I decided to do that when I spend my life advising others on their marketing. The reason is that we are never experts in every area and as we say in Switzerl and

“The cobbler’s children don’t wear shoes”.

In other words, we never seem to have the time to do what we help others to do. So true don’t you think?

The decision to invest in myself has been one of the best I’ve made in recent years, as it will simplify my day-to-day work. After all, they do say

“You have to spend time to save time”!

The best part of the program is that I now have someone telling me what to do and prioritising the steps in relaunching my website. There will also be some exciting new offers for you, my dear reader, like the webinar series I mentioned a while back.

During the weekly videos of each module of the course, I’m  getting exposed to many alternative platforms, systems and tools from the ones I already know. So it’s also making me a better digital marketer from which my clients will then benefit. A true win-win investment.

I now have someone telling me what to do and prioritising next steps. I’m also getting exposed to many alternative platforms, systems and tools from the ones I already know, so it’s also making me a better digital marketer for my clients. A true win-win investment.

Time for You to Learn Something New?

This has been a rather long introduction to say that I believe we should all invest in ourselves, every year. Attending workshops and conferences, hiring a coach, or asking someone to give us training on a topic are all excellent ways to invest wisely in ourselves. However, we can so easily get caught up in our day-to-day work, that we forget to do so, especially as we progress in our careers. I have always said that for me:

“A day without learning is a day without living”

But with so many years’ experience, I tended to limit myself to workshops and conferences. As a result, I never really challenged myself by opening my processes and tools to an external perspective. My marketing course is certainly making me feel very uncomfortable, but I am growing as a result.

Many organisations rely on internal training alone, so they find themselves in exactly the same situation as I was until recently. They never challenge their current thoughts and processes. This can be even worse in large corporations where the vast majority of employees “grew up” in the company, remaining tens of years in exactly the same environment – think P&G or Nestle. While this may indicate a great company, which I’m sure both are, it can result in a self-perpetuating belief that they are the best, in everything.

 

Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

Therefore, this week I am challenging you to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. (>>Tweet this<<) I want you to expose your ideas and thinking to others, both inside and outside your company. Share your thoughts with people you don’t normally talk to. Ask their opinion about a question that you are finding difficult to answer.

You don’t have to take their advice, but just getting a different perspective can be extremely helpful in making your own mind clearer about what you should do. In the same way as “sleeping on it” often brings a solution in the morning, asking for differing views can help us to be sure about our own perspective.

I have just updated the C³Centricity training offers based upon my recent work with clients all over the world. These are the courses I now offer, all available as one and two-day sessions:

  • I2A – Insight to Action: Tired of not turning information and knowledge into underst anding and insight? This one-day or two-day course will take you from what is an insight, to how do you uncover them and then how to action them to grow your business.
  • I2I – Insight with Impact: Often market research and insight specialists are not very good at sharing everything they learn about the market and its customers. This course takes them on a journey to increased impact and visibility, to ensure the business optimally benefits from its information investments.
  • N³ – Next Generation Insights: Are you concerned that your definition and development process of insights may need updating? This course will take your team through an analysis of your current process. Together, we will then optimise and update those parts that are not state-of-the-art and work on a real case from one of your current challenges.
  • M³ – More Meaningful Market Research: When was the last time you reviewed your MR toolbox? There are many exciting new technologies and processes which can bring increased learnings about your customers. This course will also help you to identify the best KPIs to follow your business, as well as support you in renegotiating your ongoing contracts with suppliers.
  • C³ – Consistent, Creative Communications: Advertising campaigns are often developed in the same way and tested with outdated processes and metrics. With more communications moving to digital, a new approach is necessary. This course helps you to identify and prioritise the most relevant channels for your messages, as well as to measure the changes in your br and’s image, rationally, emotionally and culturally.
  • I³ – Immediately Improved Innovation: Exp and your innovations beyond your current technical skills. Incorporate new levers  and prioritise changes in your NPD processes and tools for more successful innovations.
  • S³ – Strategy and Sensitivity with Scenarios: Open your business to new ways of developing vision and strategy. Become proactive through effective scenario planning and get prepared for all possible future opportunities and risks.
  • B³ – Boosting Bolder Business: Identify the blockages in making needed changes within your organisation. Develop and successfully implement appropriate strategies and plans to catalyse your transformation.

Don’t these courses sound great? I am so excited to be able to offer them to companies around the world, no matter what the industry in which you may work. Being customer centric means the ideas and tools are relevant no matter what your challenges are and my vast global experience ensures a knowledgeable adaptation to your specific and cultural needs.

And don’t forget, if you would like to get a new perspective on something, I’m always ready to jump on a call to discuss with you. C³Centricity offers short, sharp catalyst sessions of a few hours to a full day or more. Perhaps this is exactly what you or your team need to move forward?

Challenge yourself to be comfortable with getting uncomfortable – it won’t last long before you are once again at ease, but in a bigger, brighter and better environment!

 

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