Notice I didn’t say new customers. Or prospects. Closed business – people that actually pay you money for your products or services – should have the biggest impact on your go-forward marketing. However, there are lots of caveats to this.
When you are early in your business, before your business model finally gels, any customer that pays you is a good customer. This is one of the most treacherous times and one of the best times to let your closed customers influence your marketing strategy. But, and it’s a big but, you have to be careful in the questions you ask and the way that you listen to the answers.
Early customers are generally risk takers. If you aren’t familiar with the law of diffusion of innovation, it’s not a bad idea to read about it. Your early customer will get “it.” And to build your strategy on their ability to take risks will limit your growth. These customers can be great influencers on your strategy if you can get to the emotional reasons they purchase beyond wanting to be first or trying something new. They will tell you what you are doing right and doing wrong – with your product, your service, your sales approach – but you have to be willing to accept the blunt and sometimes painful feedback they will provide.
Current customers who purchase additional products or services are often the most overlooked veins of feedback. Many business owners or managers wrongly make the assumption that customers are buying more from them because they liked what they received the first time. And while this may be true some of the time, it isn’t true all of the time. Maybe they are buying more because the switching costs are too high – it’s too much hassle to go find another vendor or another product. Maybe they are buying more because of the relationship with your sales person – your product or service isn’t that spectacular, but they really like your sales rep.
You must always be checking in with your current clients for feedback, for two specific reasons. First, your current clients have a relationship of trust with you (at some level). This relationship allows you to ask them about their future plans, giving you a window on future needs you can help fulfill. Second, and most importantly, your brand is what your customers say it is (not what you say it is). In this most social of worlds we are now operating in, your current customers are the window to your brand value and, when asked correctly and politely, many will call out where you are – and are not – living up to your (brand) promises.
Closed customers that are new customers provide a different type of insight into your marketing and sales effectiveness. They are the real-time monitors for how your message, position, and promise are playing out in the competitive marketplace. Understanding why those customers chose your firm, now, against a range of competitive options provides unique insight as to what you are doing well, and doing poorly, as opposed to the range of alternatives.
So in practical terms, consider the following
- Have a process in place ensuring that you are talking to your customers on a regular basis and at regular intervals.
- Implement a customer feedback panel of highly trusted and brutally honest clients.
- Ensure that you are creating an company culture that can embrace feedback.
What should you ask your customers?
For new customers, ask them:
- Why did you choose us/our product?
- What specifically are you hoping to accomplish or wishing for as a result?
- What alternatives did you consider and why did you rule them out?
- What changed in your business/your life that caused you to search for and make this purchase?
- What was the process you went through to find us/our product?
With current customers, ask them:
- What have we/our product done that has had the greatest impact on your success/life/operations?
- What do we do better than any other vendor you work with?
- What does our product do better than you expected?
- What could we/our product do better?
- What is the biggest frustration you have in working with our company/our product?
- If I asked you to run our company, what is the one thing you would change and the one thing you would not change?
You can research the market, competitors, and history books all you want or talk with consultants, academics, and politicians, but in the end, the best source to identify opportunities to differentiate yourself and your products will come from talking with the people that are paying money for your products or services.
So go talk to them.