Our beloved Brew.

Our beloved Brew.
R.I.P. Big guy.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Teaching This Old Dog New Tricks

Like most everyone else in this economy, I've found I have to broaden my horizons and constantly seek new ways to deliver value to my customers. Sometime last year, when a client was considering launching a new marketing initiative and asked my advice, I asked what evidence they had that suggested the tactic was appropriate or even necessary. The client had done an excellent job of researching the market potential, customer need, design, and introduction of a new product it launched earlier this year. Now, the client was considering investing a sizable sum of money in marketing activity to follow up the launch but hadn't asked customers some critical questions to inform what comes next.

The client asked me to advise them on strategy for the marketing. My first question was, “Why are you doing this?” It came down to the client’s gut sense that a major marketing push was needed to move beyond the launch effort.

I encouraged the client to consider asking their customers, prospects and those people who chose to go with another competitor how they felt about the company’s new product, sales process and marketplace offerings. To be clear, I wasn’t proposing a customer satisfaction survey. Instead, I advised my customer contact people on their customer and prospect lists and seek their consent to be interviewed by me. Working with the client I designed a list of eight questions meant to start a conversation of about fifteen minutes.

I didn't consider it necessary to get answers to each of the questions and let the respondent take the discussion in any direction that suited them. I was attempting to gain insight into the client’s marketplace position.

The results were spectacular. We learned there were a few previously undiscovered, highly significant, common threads of importance to all customers. In the end, we came away with not only a narrowly focused positioning for marketing materials, but a number of company and sales behaviors that could affect likely purchase decisions.

I’ve never considered myself a researcher before. And I certainly don’t consider myself a reporter, but as a journalist friend of mine said, “Getting to the real story takes experience, polished listening skills, and the ability to deviate from your story outline to find real meaning.” Through my years of professional experience I’ve developed those skills.

Shortly after this first client experience, another client asked me to weigh in on their intention to create materials for their distributors and dealer network. Again, I asked, “Why?” The answer was the same. The VP of Sales had a “gut” feeling that something was needed and settled on a Power Point presentation to be delivered on a thumb drive. Fearing that this could be a complete waste of effort, which might never be used in front of a client, I asked for permission to talk to distributor reps and dealers. In the end, we determined the piece would not get used, but we also gained some invaluable insight as to what the company was doing well and what the sales force needed to reach more customers. As a result, the customer came back and asked me to do a similar set of interviews among its end-user customers. This information led to a reorganization of the customer service area, retraining of customer service reps, the addition of a national sales manager role to serve an entirely new, and vast market segment, and a new
approach to the VP of Sales entire sales process.

This past summer I conducted eight such surveys for various clients and found them to be valuable new tools. As I stated earlier, these aren’t customer satisfaction surveys. Instead, I am probing for information that will reveal customer motives, marketplace positioning, and the level of understanding customers have regarding my customers’ offerings. Since the responses are used in aggregate, without individual attribution, and the client does not have access to my raw data or forms, the level of candor is very high. The process uncovers some real gems – some not so flattering comments, and some successful elements which are real revelations to clients. I deliver both the good and bad news. What clients value most is learning things they didn’t previously know about their customers and the perceptions of their business. They also appreciate that they can proceed with a list of action steps in which they can have real confidence.

Along the way I’ve uncovered a little “cottage” service that generates new revenue sources, complements my core offerings and taught me old dogs can learn new tricks.