While there is one question to ask to ensure that you can get inside the heads of your customers there are a few steps to first take to optimize the process. They are :
- Figure out who your best customers are
- Create a list of your best customers and order them appropriately (process to follow below)
- Ask the “question”
- Collect answers and look for a pattern(s)
- Leverage the great information you have gathered (suggestions below)
When I first started as VP of Sales at a data backup company called LiveVault, I asked the existing team why our customers buy from us. I was told that we are in the business of selling “insurance”. That is, our customers wanted an “insurance policy” in case they lost their data for some reason. This sounded like a pretty good answer as it was not about what we did but what the customer valued. They were willing to pay us a monthly fee to automatically backup their data every few minutes and store it on our servers so it could be easily and quickly retrieved should disaster strike.
However, I did not stop there. I wanted to hear directly from our customers. During my first few weeks, I interviewed about 20 existing customers to ask them why they bought from us. What I heard was a completely different story than I heard from the LiveVault team.
I spoke primarily to owners of SMBs, our main customer segment, and most of them told me the same thing in almost exactly the same words when I asked this question. “What is the most valuable thing you derived from using our service?” -The answer – “Set it and forget it.”
Wow! We were selling insurance but they were buying time. They were super busy and this was one less thing to worry about. They valued eliminating a boring and tedious task from their day more than whether or not they might lose data. They wanted to focus on their business. They valued the data and did not want to lose it but this was not the primary reason for the purchase.
The following exercise is a simple and easy way to check back in with your customers. This is a step you can do to more quickly get valuable data. However, it does not replace the need to continue to learn from customers directly in face to face interactions preferably. The steps follow:
- Create a list of your current customers and order them by profit (% and/or total profit dollars). (IMPORTANT: Your list should contain the name of the key decision maker (if they are still at the company) and the key person who uses your product/service most often today (if they are different people.). There are variations of this based on the complexity of the buying process so use your best judgment remembering that the fewer people the better and one name is best.
- Create two additional columns with the following headings:
- You REALLY love working with them – (i.e., they are easy to work with, do not haggle on price, provide proactive referrals and are happy to provide references when asked.)
- They REALLY love working with you – (i.e., they tell you how much you have helped them in their jobs, lives, businesses and talk about you often with others. You can hear their smile on the phone.)
- Put an X in the column where appropriate for at least the first 20 customers.
- Re-order the list by pushing all the customers that meet both criteria above to the top. Maintain the profit order.
- Move to the one question process below.
Ask one question
Creating this list of your best customers, in and of itself, may be illuminating. However, it also is the list to whom you will ask one critical question. Here is what you do next:
Craft an email to the people you listed for each company for at least the top 20 customers on the list and ask the following:
Thank you for being a great customer. We value your business and your input to help us continually improve. To that end, we would be grateful for your reply to this email guided by the following request:
If you were to send a short note to a trusted colleague whose business and/or function would receive similar positive outcome(s) by working with our products/services, what would you say to them? Please be sure to include the following information:
- The most valuable thing that you (and /or your team) get from doing business with us, (i.e., how we helped you with a current struggle and how they might feel once we helped to make things easier or better for them as well) and,
- (Bonus future-planning question) If you had a magic wand where anything was possible, what else would you want us to provide to you and how that would make things easier or better for you (and your team)? Please be as specific as you can.
When the answers start to come back, it is highly likely that you will start to see a pattern and get some new ideas on how you can add even more value to your best customers.
From this information, you can do a number of things. Here are some suggestions:
- Modify your offering to get much better at what your best customers value.
- Eliminate or minimize some of the things that they do not value and are costly for you to provide.
- With permission, use their replies as testimonials in your marketing and sales efforts.
- Create a target list of future customers that you think are much like the top names on this list including those already with competitors.
- Train your salespeople to start saying the words that you read in these notes when talking to future prospects.
- Consider firing the customers at the very bottom of the list as you may be losing money or making little to no profit from them. They are very likely taking valuable time and resources away from your most profitable customers and affecting employee engagement. (IMPORTANT: You must create this list for ALL current customers for this part.)
- If not established already, have the leadership team cultivate a relationship with the key decision makers at your top customers that drive 80% or more of your profit. They are the lifeblood of your business!
- Have your product people talk to/observe these users to get ideas on how you can improve the experience.
- Contact the names on the list to get further clarification, when necessary, as to what they want and value the most.
- Ask for the names and permission to contact the trusted colleagues they were thinking of.
- Create your Core Customer sentence that describes the common 3-5 key attributes and what they want and value the most from working with you. For instance, “Our core customer is an extremely busy, small or medium business owner between the ages of 35-50 that greatly values their data and are looking for data-backup solutions where they can “Set it and forget it”. Communicate this sentence in such a way that if I walked up to any team member at random they could recite it off the top of their head.
If you come up with more ways that this information could be helpful, please share them with me.
Here is a simple template to help you get started.
Good luck and let me know how this goes.
Bill – Certified Growth Coach
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*Adapted from John Wooden’s definition – Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable to grow your business, yourself and your team.