Clarity Tip Sheet...

How to listen to your clients (but not all of them)

Obviously, you should listen to your customers, and most companies do that, but most donít do it well enough.

Itís important who asks customers, whom you ask, what you ask them, and where and how you do it. Itís not always simple.

The listening organisation
Thereís been a lot of hubbub about the virtues of the ďlearning organisationĒ but itís actually much more important to be a ďlistening organisationĒ. If your company doesnít know how to listen to customers, youíll be in trouble in the longer run.

But not all customers are equally relevant, so who do you actually listen to? Some customers are more profitable than others, some are more visionary, some are more trendsetting, etc. Itís important that you select carefully. However, whoever you chose, itís best to select front liners because theyíre the ones who are more on the ball.

Sales intelligence pitfalls
Sales people usually have the closest contact with the market and they are an important source for intelligence on what customers think and require. Be cautious, however, because sales people are often untrained in asking questions and gathering and analysing responses. Itís not guaranteed that theyíll ask the right things, and itís equally uncertain that theyíll interpret answers correctly.

Thereís also a real risk that they donít relay the answers entirely accurately. They often act as a filter and sales people often have an interest in influencing the progress of certain things, e.g. lowering prices.

So, of course you should listen to sales people but be aware that reports from the field arenít enough.

The benefits of visiting
Inviting customers to your company can be OK if you have something there to show them, or if you want to give an impression of the quality of your company, etc.

However, there are two reasons why you should concentrate more on going to the customersí site...

Firstly, you get more honest and spontaneous answers because those you speak with are more comfortable and less concerned about what answer you might like to hear.

Secondly, it gives the interviewer/visitor a chance to gather lots of new impressions which can instigate better and more relevant questions - as well as make it possible to interpret answers in the right connection.

What do you want to know?
Overall, there are two things worth obtaining from customers: general trends and reactions to products and concepts.

Customers know better than anybody else where the market is moving. They are the ones who can talk about whatís going on - not just in connection with products, but also with industry developments.

On the other hand, it makes little sense to ask customers ďwhat they wantĒ because you canít expect customers to be visionaries on your behalf. They seldom know or fully appreciate the possibilities.

But customers can certainly approve or reject concepts before they become products, and they can suggest relevant modifications.

So why donít you let in on customers on some of your forthcoming products so that youíll be more likely to hit the market successfully?

Avoiding focus group pitfalls
Focus groups (a group of 6 - 12 persons and a meeting leader gathered to discuss a specific subject) can be a good way to listen to your customers but steer clear of the common pitfalls:

Firstly, itís not always possible to gather a group because your customers may be unwilling to join in on a meeting with their competitors to reveal thoughts and activities.

Secondly, a focus group may not be the optimal way to gauge reactions at all. It could be that one-on-one meetings are more relevant and suitable for the specific project.

Thirdly, itís very important that the focus group discussion is led in a competent way so that all aspects are uncovered and this can be very complicated. For instance, some focus group participants may be holding back in their partaking, or they may not be entirely open and direct in their contribution. An experienced focus group leader can see through and make the session effective.

In summary, itís important that you listen to your customers, but donít act only according to what customers say and do without reflecting on it and analysing it first. Apply your own filter and use common sense.
At Clarity, we help business-to-business companies listen properly to their customers. We help you apply fact-based international marketing. International business-to-business companies use our services to undertake action-oriented market & customer research and competitive surveillance - anywhere on the globe.

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