I have a challenge for you.
In the next few weeks at your organization, see if you can identify some themes.
- Keep a tally of how many times the product is mentioned compared to the customer, in any meeting.
- Be aware of how often product innovation is discussed as its own end goal, without mentioning how it meets the needs of customers.
- Listen to your salesperson’s product demo or and see how many times “this product,” “our product” or the name of the product is mentioned compared to discussing what customers have shared about how it meets their needs.
- Observe how your front-line employees interact with customers in a purely transactional way, focusing on products and branding instead of the customer.
What’s really meaningful to your customers?
If you accept this challenge, I am willing to bet you’ll find some disturbing patterns about how customers are overlooked in many organizations. It’s not intentional, but unless leaders are actively seeking information, feedback and the honest truth from customers, the product conversation will dominate.
This customer-centric focus is becoming more critical as new generations change how they shop.
Teens don’t hang out in shopping malls like their parents did. They are too busy creating their online personas, interacting with brands they love on their own terms. Millennials and Generation Z (they’re next!) pay very little attention to traditional advertising, so offering meaningful experiences is how some brands are breaking through the noise.
You can only determine what experience might be meaningful by asking, observing and listening to your customers. B2B organizations should also pay attention.
More customers want to do nearly all their research and shopping online, and they’re relying on customer reviews more than ever. This means if your organization isn’t asking and listening for answers about what customers really need to do, the product can become obsolete quickly.
Timberland, the iconic brand of hiking boots, went through an impressive transformation recently because they started to really listen to customers. After several years of confusion over who their customer was, they identified their ideal customer and redesigned almost everything – products, merchandising, marketing – to meet their needs better.
This has led to an impressive turnaround in most of their results, including sales up year-over-year in stand-alone stores, on its website and in its wholesale business.
Interestingly, Timberland also learned they were changing their inventory and “look” too often, sometimes changing each season. By understanding both their customers and their retail partners, they now maintain the same inventory for 3 to 6 months. This has led to an increase in sales and better partnerships with their retailers.
I think the Timberland example is a good one for any organization.
We get so excited on the inside of an organization about the NEW. Whatever it is, the new marketing campaign, the new store display, the new product upgrade. But customers just want something that works for them.
In the B2B world, get ready. Some are predicting that by 2020, the B2B ecommerce market will be twice as large at the B2C market. This means if your organization is not focused on your customer’s real desires and needs, they will simply shop elsewhere with a click.
So will you take the challenge?
I encourage you to do so to see how your organization considers customers. Are they an afterthought? Are they a necessary evil? Or are they the critical asset they are? It all starts there.