Know Thy Customer … To Become a More Successful Supplier

No matter who you are – a doctor or lawyer selling your expertise, a giant corporation selling industrial equipment or telecomm services, a shop owner selling latest fashion to upscale teens – the most successful competitors in your business are typically the competitors who most nearly give the customers what they want.

“Well, duh,” you might say, “I don’t need some outsider to tell me that, or to tell me what my customers want. After all, I talk to them every day.”

Unfortunately for most business leaders, from the smallest one person shop to the mega corporation, those customer conversations are usually dominated by immediate, urgent priorities – fixing a problem, collecting an overdue invoice, negotiating a price, scheduling a meeting or a delivery. In these discussions, too little energy is directed toward creatively discussing the future – to contemplating product development, offering enrichment, and growth strategies.

Companies grow and prosper by identifying and satisfying customers unmet needs. Seems simple enough: if you don’t already know what your customers need, then just ask them. Problem is, it just isn’t that simple. Ask the question “What are your unmet needs,” and you’ll likely hear “Lower price!” and “Hmmm … That’s a good question.” The truth is that unmet needs are unmet NOT because we ignored them, but because they are so hidden and ingrained in the way the market does things that we never recognize the possibility of a better way.

Uncovering and explaining those hidden issues is the role of marketing research. Whether you do it yourself, rely upon your company’s market research department, or bring in an outside consultant, digging into your customers’ business environment and developing honest, dispassionate insights about the world they live and compete in is the key to serving your customers better – and to making your business more a desirable and successful supplier.

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4 Responses to “Know Thy Customer … To Become a More Successful Supplier”

  1. Dyveke says:

    I was asked to ask my customers two questions:
    1, Woulld thet recommend my firm to others.
    2, Why yes, why no.
    This is unlike what I have been teached where you often use numbered scales, any comments?

  2. Too many managers rush to make decisions based upon a hunch. Then only through trial and error do they realize that their hunch was wrong.

    Quality market and business intelligence is the difference between success and failure. Gathering this intelligence often seems like such a daunting task that the decision to just move forward is made based upon the notion that the research will take too much time and they need to move quickly.

    However the net start to objective time-line is shorter with quality intelligence. It is like architecture for a building. They spend years on the plans so that each piece of the building is carefully thought out and designed. If they just started, imagine how long it would take and how much it would cost to figure out the build as they go.

    Long story short, do your homework. Getting an F in business means bankruptcy…

  3. Bob Brothers says:

    To DYVEKE’s question, I’d say follow the recommended approach of asking the open-ended question. If you can engage your client in a dialog about what you do well and not so well, you will learn much more than from numerical scores on a limited number of discrete questions.

    The number scores approach would be useful if you have a large number of clients and wish to do statistical analyses.

    DAVE CALABRESE’s is obviously the voice of experience. Some managers don’t realize what marketing research can do for them, some are too impatient spend a little time or reluctant to invest a few $$$, and some are just too reliant on their own intuition. Dave’s last sentence is sad but oh so true.

  4. Dyveke says:

    Thanks for the reply. Marketing research is often ignored, because the descion maker is superficial or because things has worked out well before and you tend to rely on old medals. For me the essentials about marketing research is right timing of the right activities.

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