Why talking to your customers is a waste of time

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I was introduced to an entrepreneur who was struggling to get his business off the ground. “I took your advice” he said “and spoke to my customers and prospects. They didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know.” He told me what they had said and indeed it was devoid of anything interesting.

The problem of doing it yourself

The problem you’ve no doubt spotted already is that he tried to do it himself. This is problematic for three reasons:

  1. Firstly, if you have a business (or personal relationship) there are some things you can’t easily talk about head on with the other party. Dissatisfactions, frustrations, and weaknesses are hard things to bring up especially if there is no perceived benefit in doing so. Thus is of course why counsellors and therapists exist.
  2. Secondly, people often can’t explain why they did or didn’t choose you, (notwithstanding the above). Memory starts to be a problem after about three months is one hindrance; asking someone to rationalise a decision obscures the emotional drivers is like seeing the world in one dimension; finally, it’s hard to ask the important contextual questions after the event when you should have asked at the point of sale.
  3. Lastly, even if you did overcome the above, you would still filter the information you receive, basing it on whatever contextual framework you believe is true about the relationship.

What customers can show you

Understanding other people is hard. Very hard. Their behaviour is a crucial guide to understanding others but is an activity we normally leave to our unconscious mind. Gut feel and and non verbal communications are powerful indicators but “feelings” are hard to turn into strategy. So watching behaviour and having conversations to contextualise it is vital but only if you know what questions are worth asking (for them and you). But people ask the wrong questions and fail to contextualise the answers with behavioural reality which leaves them with anodyne nonsense that they can do nothing useful with.

Whats the learning?

An objective outsider, independent of your industry, skilled at uncovering, explaining and contextualising behaviour is one asset. One who goes on to link market outcomes with your organisational behaviours means you then have the insights you need to change how your business goes to market. Which has a transformational effect on performance if you can execute the things you need to address.

Francis Wyburd

whereyoustand is my London based insight and advisory firm. The combination of my ‘hidden voice of the customer’ research and marketing advisory services helps tech entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

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Francis Wyburd

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