… it only matters what your clients & prospects think.
I recently stumbled across an online article from the Harvard Business Review, and though it’s several years old, its message is as true today as it ever was… maybe more so:
“Most companies are the centers of their own universes. It’s a natural enough impression; after all, the products and services they offer are on their minds 24/7. The trap is in those companies deluding themselves into thinking that they are as important to their customers as they are to themselves. This is almost never the case. This delusion interferes with understanding customers and their needs, and frequently leads companies to talk to customers in ways that seem foreign or confusing.”
The author sure hit the nail on the head with that one… that myopic perspective – that so many business leaders have – has been the cause of more business failures than virtually any other issue.
The fact is, what you think doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think it matters. It’s your clients and prospects that will tell you what’s important. To them. And the old adage, ‘the buyer’s perception is the seller’s reality’ is absolutely the truth. And there’s just no getting around it.
But how do you know what buyers (clients & prospective clients) are thinking and what’s important to them? Simple, you ask. So, to get rid of that myopic view, here are 7 simple ways for you to listen to the marketplace…
1) Survey #1: Following a project/engagement. For having so many smart people in our industry, I am amazed how few businesses actually ask their clients – formally – how a recent project/engagement actually went for them. And when they don’t hear anything, they assume that everything is OK. Big mistake. Immediately afterward an engagement, ask about the details of the work, the outcomes and how your staff performed. Do this for all projects and, over time, you develop some critical trending data about your firm. Bottom line, you need to make sure you’re as awesome as you think you are.
2) Survey #2: The big picture view. Here’s your chance to begin to understand the perception of your firm in the marketplace. Don’t ask project-specific questions (like above)… but try to get inside your buyers’ heads; e.g. “Why did you hire us – the very first time – when you had plenty of other suppliers to choose from?”, “What do we do, if anything, that’s unique in the marketplace?”, “What other suppliers, like us, do you use… and why?”, “What other kinds of services/products are you looking for from suppliers like us?” [Bonus: Don’t forget to ask similar questions of your former clients.]
3) Social media visits. When was the last time you visited you clients’ (and former clients’) social media sites? The more you visit, the more you’ll see what’s important to them – based on what they’re posting about and what they’re engaging with. To make this as easy as possible, make sure to connect with and follow your clients and their key employees (on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.), so you’ll automatically see their activity in your feeds.
4) Google Alerts. Want to make sure you really stay on top of what’s important to your client and what’s going on with them? It’s easy… set up Google Alerts to follow key companies in the markets you serve or to track important trends in those industries.
5) LinkedIn Groups. While we mentioned social media a little earlier, of particular importance are LinkedIn groups. And the key here is to join the groups that your clients belong to. With a ‘myopic’ view, we tend to join the groups that are important to us… which is fine. But better to join the ones that are important to your clients. Then browse the groups regularly to see what important topics your clients – and others like them – are talking about.
6) Conferences. Like LinkedIn groups, attending the conferences that your clients attend can be a key to understanding them… and the world they work in. At a conference, you’ll see what topics are most popular, the newest offerings form vendors in that space, and you’ll get the chance to network with and learn from people in that industry. All good ways to stay on top of what’s important to your clients.
7) TALK to them! While this may be the easies thing to do, it is also the most effective… but it is often the one thing that doesn’t get done. So, right now, block off some time on your calendar – once each quarter – to reach out to and chat with your top 5-10 clients. Don’t talk project work, but rather… what’s going on with their businesses, what new challenges are they facing, what new trends are they having to adapt to and so on. That 1-on-1 time will also give you insight – not just into what they’re dealing with – but also why it’s important to them. [And when you can, do it in-person over a cup of coffee.]
Have you ever developed a new product or service that failed (or dramatically under-performed)?
If you have, it’s likely that the reason that happened was that you thought it was a great idea… but your clients or the marketplace didn’t. Your myopic view got in the way.
But it doesn’t have to. Look at the list of ideas above and employ just one or two of them on a regular basis. And as you get feedback from the marketplace, what’s important to you will change to more closely align with what’s important to your clients.
And that’s a very good thing!