I have a lot of things I point to when talking about how I became so focused on being market driven, on engaging with your customers and markets to drive strategy and execution. Dr. Bither at Penn State started me on Drucker and the importance of “strategic marketing.” GE (my first job after getting my MBA) reinforced it, as did my own success practicing market-driven processes. I eventually found my way to Pragmatic Marketing. That said, I recently came across one of my favorite TV commercials ever, and I now think that my market-driven ways started even earlier.
Go Out and Visit Your Customers
The commercial is a United Airlines commercial from 1990 (I believe) and is about a company being fired by “one of our oldest customers” because they had lost touch with the customer as interactions changed from in person (handshake, face to face) to remote (phone call, fax), and then he hands out tickets to everyone on the team to have face to face chats with every one of their customers. You can see the advertisement here:
Now this advertisement does not say if these are sales people, consultants, advertising execs, accountants or anything else (I always assumed some sort of services company, but that is just me), but where it resonates with me is in terms of strategy and products – the “strategic marketing” concepts I learned from Dr. Bither and by reading Peter Drucker, and the NIHITO concept (Nothing Important Happens In The Office) from Pragmatic Marketing.
I talk to a lot of executives and business owners (from the local business to Private Equity owners) and it never ceases to amaze me how many companies have lost touch with their customers and market. The scary part is how many of them are not even aware of it until “one of their oldest customers” fires them. It is an easy trap to fall in to especially in this digital connected world where text, email and big data can is removing the human connection, but it is just as easy a trap to get out of or prevent all together.
How do you do that? Talk to your customers and the entire market in a non-sales, non-support conversation, and when I say the entire market, I mean everyone you think could be your customer – your competitors customers, your lost prospects, and those non-customers who you think would want your product but haven’t bought from you or your competitors.
Segment and Prioritize Customers to Visit
If you want to get started, segmentation is key as I have never seen a company with more resources than they needed. I advise companies to think in terms of a spiral (Fibonacci)– start in the middle with your own customers (especially your oldest customers) and talk with them about what they value, their unmet needs, changes they see, and what is most important to them, it might not be specific to your business but you might be able to help.
Talk with your new customers and repeat/renewal customers and learn why they selected you, find out what they believe is the value you bring, and your differentiation. Then start moving out from the spiral by having conversations with the prospects you lost, understand why they did not choose you, what unmet needs they have you were unable to meet. Then move out with the spiral again, to people you think should be in your market (buying from you or your competitors) and are not. Have a conversation about why they are not buying, what are their priorities, what do they value. Then extend to an adjacent market segment and then another, continually growing your knowledge and understanding of the customers and markets that you can serve to grow your business.
This knowledge and understanding are critical, it is what your corporate strategy is built from, it is what your market strategy is built from, your product strategy, and it is this knowledge and context that enables your product delivery organization to design and deliver a remarkable product that meets all of their needs. It also directs your marketing and sales people to reach the right customers with the right message to drive sales.
What is Your Plan to Visit Customers
This is my passion, I loved doing it as a consultant, it is the foundation of what I do as a product and strategy leader in my current role, and I love doing it my friends, their companies and their people build these capabilities so they never lose touch with their customers and markets.
If you have lost touch with your customers and market and need help, or if you are simply interested in learning more about how you can engage with your customers and the market to build your knowledge and understanding, check out the services from Product Growth Leaders – https://productgrowthleaders.com/services/.
If you want to share your stories about getting back in touch with customers, old advertisements that have stuck with you, or United Airlines, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.