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Becoming a Customer-Driven Organization: Questions to Ask Customers

Contributed by Andy Mindlin

SUMMARY

Considerable evidence indicates that a key to succeeding in business on an on-going basis is adopting a management model where “market input” helps drive decisions about marketing initiatives and selling methods. To make this happen, leaders in high-performing companies bring “a continuous stream of market insights” into their company. An essential element of this approach is having people in the company regularly interview customers, losses, prospects, and partners. These conversations are often conducted by phone. This document provides an overview of the process, clarifies what we’re trying to learn, and lists specific questions to ask.

WHO DO WE LISTEN TO?

Several groups can provide valuable “market input” to help us make better decisions:

  • Customers. With this group, we ask people who have bought from us to describe their process, from the when they realized they had a need to the instant they decided to buy.  We can also ask them to describe their experience with our company after they made their decision. Their buying processes and experiences with the website and salespeople are documented and mapped. Patterns are detected and analyzed. You can expand this group beyond current customers to include lapsed and lost customers.
  • Losses. These are people who contacted the company but did not make a purchase. We listen to them to find out why they chose not to buy, who they bought from instead, and what their impressions were of us and our competitors. We also ask about the steps they took, so we can increase our understanding of the buying process. Listening to this group helps generate insights to assess the strengths and weaknesses of competition and to figure out how to fight back and win more often.
  • Prospects. These are evaluators who are still considering a purchase (note that this should be done by someone not involved in the sales process; a marketing person or someone else inside or outside the company). Here we are trying to learn about their decision-making process and to determine what is keeping them from buying. If the conversations are conducted properly, prospects will reveal the “barriers to the sale” (which might include pushy salespeople or less-than-helpful websites).
  • Partners. Most companies have partners or affiliates who in some way get involved in the revenue generation process. And because they often work with several companies, they see the strengths and weaknesses of each. If asked correctly, they will share these insights.

WHAT ARE WE TRYING TO LEARN?

Here’s what we are trying to learn from each interview:

  1. We want to learn why and how they bought our product.  It’s very important for us to learn the “buying process” that prospects go through (as opposed to the “selling process” that we go through). A better understanding of this process, from the perspective of the prospect, will help us improve our people, processes and systems to be easier to buy from. The end result of being “easier to buy from” is often generating more revenue, faster.
  2. We want to learn from each customer how our product is working out for them, and how satisfied they are. As Peter Drucker said, the goal of any business is to “generate satisfied customers” – so we want to know how we’re doing. If our customers are thrilled, then we can quantify that and shout it in promotional communications. If our customers are not raving about what we do, then we want to learn “why” – so that we can get insights into how to serve their needs better.
  3. We want to get outside perspective on how to grow our business. People who have bought our product know what’s great about it, and who else would care, and where to find those people. Also, our satisfied customers want us to succeed (so that we stick around and can help them again in the future). So while we can generate our own ideas about how to grow the business – our customers will have many more ideas, which are much more compelling to people like them. We want to tap into this stream of ideas, so we’re getting the best thinking on the table for evaluation, to increase our odds of success in choosing the right methods to grow the business.

WHAT QUESTIONS DO WE ASK?

When starting to implement a “customer listening” program, leaders often wonder what questions to ask. No single list will be right for every company or situation, so think about the following as candidates for consideration.

  1. 1. How did you first find out about our product?Trying to identify promotional activities we should do more of to grow the business further
  2. What steps did you follow from there to buy our product?
    Trying to understand the buying process, from their perspective
  3. Why were you looking to buy a product like ours?
    Try to understand “what problem we solve” in customer language, and get better tuned into their needs
  4. How is the product working out for you?
    Trying to gauge customer satisfaction and identify gaps to fill
  5. How much do you use our product (or services)?
    Trying to identify if they are a heavy user and a source of potentially significant future business
  6. On what basis did you decide to buy our product instead of the other available alternatives?
    Trying to distill a compelling reason-to-buy that we can communicate to others in future promotional efforts
  7. Can you give me a sense of what your company is going to be focused on in the year ahead?

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