An Extraordinarily Deep Customer Understanding

It isn’t too hard to find out what customers need, want, and are willing to pay for. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Customers are demanding to be heard. If you search the web for aberrations of many company’s names you’ll invariably find sites that customers have set up to voice their opinions (ie. A recent post on John Dragoon’s (CMO of Novell) blog demanded more “transparent PR”. Sun Microsystem’s customers said they wanted less hype and more specific insight as to how Sun’s roadmap would help them be successful.

Unfortunately, not nearly enough companies make sufficient effort to develop this level of customer insight, choosing instead to operate “from the gut”, or rely upon outdated 3rd-party research.

One of my clients, a major financial software vendor, thought its customers were insanely price sensitive. However, I found a large and easily identifiable segment of customers that truly valued their products and was willing to pay double and even triple current prices. In addition, I also discovered an important business need in the market for a product that they had previously thought to be very low value and were considering just giving away for free.

To effectively listen, you must speak with and learn from customers, vendors, partners, and others wherever they can be found. You need to scour the social web, forums, and user communites to woo lead users, bloggers, exemplars & advocates who can meaningfully contribute to your growing body of knowledge.

Of course you need to solicit information about product issues but there is far more than that to be gained by going deeper into customer attributes, perceptions, dissatisfiers, and business processes so you can quantify, justify, and defend the value you provide against their purchase and retention drivers as well as find new, profitable opportunities.