Knowing what customers want is a moving target, says Jaynie L. Smith, a marketing expert and author of Relevant Selling.
“One year ago, people were looking for financial stability in companies they were purchasing from because of all of the business closings,” she says, citing surveys conducted by her company, Smart Advantage, Inc. “Now, on-time delivery outranks that because so many businesses cut back their inventory during the worst of the recession. With demand increasing, customers have more difficulty getting what they want on time.”
After examining 10 years worth of customer market research for more than 100 companies, Smith concludes that 90% of the time, most businesses do not know what their customers value most. Indeed, Smith says they are often shocked to learn what is at the top of the customers’ value list.
Smith offers these tips for getting to know your customers and prospects better:
Customers are usually looking for “how” things are sold, not “what.” For most products, she notes, they can choose from a number of suppliers, even at random, but they don't. Why? Because there’s something else they value more than the product itself, such as product durability or safety features.
“If you don’t value what you bring to the customer, they won’t value it either,” says Smith. Very few companies know how to effectively articulate what differentiates them, so price often becomes the tiebreaker.
Understand that existing customers and prospects usually have different values. In 70% of cases, Smith's research shows, customers and prospective customers differ in what they most value. When that happens, your message to customers should be different than your message to prospects.
For example, existing customers may depend on your excellent help desk. It’s what they’ve grown to value most about your company. But prospective customers haven’t yet used your help desk so they don’t know how essential this benefit is yet.
Use what you learn. If you find customers most value speedy responses when they have a problem, and your customer service department is slow, then fix customer service. Make sure to tell the customer service employees that customers have rated fast response time as their top priority.
Smith says don't be afraid to brag about favorable stats. “98% of customer calls are returned within 30 minutes; 2% within 1 hour.” That information makes your company more relevant to customers, and lets customers know you’ve got what they want.
Invest in disciplined customer research. While double-blind customer market research is the gold standard, Smith says even a small investment in research can reap huge returns. Less expensive research alternatives include sharing the expense with an industry association; partnering with an organization that needs the same information or a peer that doesn’t compete with you; hiring a college intern; or creating an online survey using a free basic service.